Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Woman buried with heavy bronze jewelry found in in Siberia

Sunday, September 19th, 2021

The remains of a woman buried with a rich array of heavy bronze jewelry have been unearthed in what is now the  Republic of Khakassia, southern Siberia. The intact grave was discovered in the Askiz-17 burial ground and dates to the 8-10th century B.C.

She was found in a small, relatively shallow burial pit attached to the western side of a stone mound whose central grave had been pillaged centuries earlier. Only 30 inches deep, the pit managed to avoid being damaged or destroyed by the construction of highways and railroads that has taken a heavy toll on the visible structures of the prehistoric burial ground.

The woman was placed in a supine position with her head in a southeastern orientation. Animal remains — the shoulder blade and front leg of a large horned mammal — were tidily placed to the side of her left foot as funerary offerings. The broken blade of a bronze knife was laid next to them. A large round pottery vessel with an ornamented rim was placed next to her head. It is in fragments, smashed over time by the stone filling of the burial pit.

The bones are in poor condition, but they are still for the most part articulated in their original anatomical order. It is what her bones are wearing that identifies her as part of the Karasuk culture, skilled metal workers renown for their high-quality bronze cast in wax.

A large bronze bracelet with checkered ornament was placed above her wrist, four fingers of her left hand had large bronze rings, each with two pearl-shaped bronze decorations.

To each side of the woman’s skull were 3 temple rings; two triangle plates were next to her head.

By her right elbow archeologists found a round bronze plate, 9 centimetre in diameter, and 8 small bronze buttons.

Archaeologists believe this was a custom-made funerary set, not jewelry the woman would have worn during her lifetime. There are no signs of wear and tear, not even the small scratches you’d expect from any kind of use at all. The sheer weight of the jewelry would have made them uncomfortable and unwieldy to wear under regular ambulatory circumstances.

All pieces from the small buttons, which once adorned burial clothes that have long-since decomposed, to the massive bracelet are made in the same artistic style typical of the the Minusinsk Basin in the Late Bronze Age. They were likely cast to order from one foundry. Her entire outfit, clothes and jewels, was a matched set created by a single master bronzesmith to send the deceased off in a style befitting her wealth and high status.

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Southern Tomb in Djoser funerary complex opened

Tuesday, September 14th, 2021

A monumental tomb across from the Step Pyramid of Djoser has reopened to visitors after 15 years of renovations. The Southern Tomb is part of the expansive mortuary complex built by Djoser’s royal architect Imhotep in Saqqara, a necropolis just outside the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis. Built between 2667 and 2648 B.C., the Southern Tomb is a mastaba, a rectangular tomb with a flat roof (the step pyramid was made by stacking six mastabas on top of each other).

The limestone building you see on the surface is the figurative tip of the iceberg. Underneath the visible tomb is a labyrinthine warren of passages cut down into the living rock 100 feet below the surface. The long corridors are punctuated by false doors engraved with the hieroglyphics and inlaid with tiles of blue faience. At the base of the central funeral shaft is a massive pink granite sarcophagus, a smaller version of the one inside the burial room of the step pyramid.

It’s not certain what the purpose of the tomb was. Djoser’s body was buried in his glorious pyramid. It may have had an unknown symbolic purpose.  Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, hypothesizes that it was the most glamorous and expensive canopic jar ever, a great monument built to contain his internal organs.

Restoration of the Southern Tomb began in 2006, part of the same comprehensive research and restoration of the necropolis that also shored up the dangerously precarious Step Pyramid, which reopened to visitors last year. The corridors, walls and ceilings under the mastaba were stabilized and new flooring and lighting installed. The granite sarcophagus was also recomposed.

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Byzantine-era axe, machete found in ancient city

Monday, September 13th, 2021

Archaeologists have unearthed an iron axe and machete dating to the Byzantine era in the ancient city of Assos in northwestern Turkey. The team found the tools while excavating the remains of dwellings which contained numerous daily use items like pottery and a small iron grill.

Excavation leader Professor Nurettin Arslan:

“One of the iron objects we found this year is a large iron knife, which we believe is a machete. It was found in Byzantine structures that we call the gymnasium (the training ground for athletes). The second one is an ax-type material that assumingly was used specifically for shaping and chopping wood. Both tools are quite important in terms of preserving their form well despite the long years that they have spent underground. They constitute an important example for the materials used in production in Assos.”

The axe and machete are largely intact, missing only organic parts like the handles. They stand out from the other objects recovered from the Byzantine layers as they are mostly pottery and found in fragments that the archaeologists have to piece together. The pots were used for cooking food — boiling grains and legumes, for example — as well as for serving it and storing it.

Founded on a hill overlooking the Aegean by colonists from the island of Lesbos around 1000 B.C., Assos had the only good natural harbour in 50 miles, so it was crucial to trade in the southern Biga Peninsula for thousands of years. It has been continuously populated since its founding. The name of the modern village is Behramkale, but Assos is still referred to by its ancient name in common parlance, and is a popular seaside resort town thanks to its picturesque Aegean location and extensive surviving ancient remains, which include a spectacular 6th century B.C. Doric temple of Athena on the crag overlooking the sea, the Hellenistic-era (6th-4th century B.C.) defensive walls and the dock which is still in use today.

Its most famous resident was Aristotle who founded his first school of philosophy there in 348 B.C. after departing Athens and the Academy in the wake of Plato’s death. He lived there three years, a valued advisor of King Hermias and soon his son-in-law when he married the king’s daughter Pythias.

A quick word about Hermias who was a remarkable individual. He first appears on the historical record as a slave to a banker named Eubulus who became ruler of Assos and Atarneus when the Persian aristocrat who owned them used them as collateral for a loan and then defaulted. Hermias was a valued member of the household and as a youth was educated at Plato’s Academy which is where he first met and become fast friends with Aristotle. Eubulus died shortly after Hermias’ return to Atarneus, leaving Hermias as his successor.

Philip II of Macedon saw an opportunity in the new despot of Assos and Atarneus. He wanted an alliance with Hermias to get access to that invaluable port for a future invasion of Asia Minor and Persia, so he dispatched Aristotle to grease the skids with Hermias. It worked. Hermias and Philip formed a diplomatic and military alliance.

The alliance did not work to Hermias’ advantage in the end. Indeed, it led directly to his agonizing death. When Artaxerxes III of Persia began eyeing an invasion of Asia Minor to reclaim lost territories, the Greeks got nervous. Athens told Philip that if he even looked at Asia Minor funny, they’d join the Persians against him. Philip decided discretion was the better part of valour and withdrew his military support, abandoning Hermias to his fate.

Artaxerxes hired the Greek mercenary general Mentor to capture Hermias. Aristotle, horrified that Philip had abandoned his friend, frantically wrote to Mentor hoping to get him to switch sides. His arguments fell on deaf ears. Hermias was imprisoned and sent to Susa where he was tortured to extract information about Philip’s invasion plans. Hermias, who definitely had the goods on Philip, refused to talk. He was loyal to the end, even to the disloyal Philip, and died in 341 B.C. His last words were “tell my friends that I have done nothing shameful or unworthy of philosophy.”

Aristotle felt the loss keenly. He dedicated a memorial monument at Delphi to Hermias and wrote a hymn honoring his steadfastness in the face of betrayal.

And now for you Atarneus’ pride,
Trusting in others’ faith, has nobly died;
But yet his name
Shall never die, the Muses’ holy train
Shall bear him to the skies with deathless fame,
Honouring Zeus, the hospitable god,
And honest hearts, proved friendship’s blest abode.

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Maya rulers installed in Met’s Great Hall

Sunday, September 12th, 2021

Two 8th century Maya stele have been installed in the Great Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of New York. On loan from the Republic of Guatemala, the relief carvings of two Maya rulers, one male, one female, replace statues of the 12th-dynasty pharaoh Amenemhat II and the goddess Athena that have been in Great Hall for years.

Stela 5 from Piedras Negras, a Classic Maya urban center on the border with what is now Chiapas, Mexico, that was modest in population but so rich in engravings documenting the chronology and accomplishments of its rulers that it played a key role in the deciphering of Maya script in the late 1950s. The stela is a life-sized representation of King K’inich Yo’nal Ahk II (ca. 664-729 A.D.) who is seated on a throne while receiving a nobleman. The throne is lined with a jaguar skin, its head staring unseeing at the viewer. Above the king is an anthropomorphic mountain with an open jaw from which deities emerge. Its glyphs include a date: November 2nd, 716.

The other stela in the Great Hall is number 24 from the El Naranjo site in Petén. It depicts queen regent Ix Wak Jalam Chan (ca. 670s-741 A.D.), who like another great Maya queen, Lady Snake Lord, held her own power rather than acting as mere queen consort.

One of the most powerful women known by name from the ancient Americas, Ix Wak Jalam Chan (Lady Six Sky) arrived in the city of Sa’aal, now near the border between Belize and Guatemala, in 682. The daughter of a powerful ruler in a centuries-old dynasty, she married into the local ruling family, securing a critical political alliance. Ruling as regent in place of her infant son, the queen led military campaigns to conquer neighboring cities in the late seventh and early eighth centuries. This monument records her triumph: she appears with a captive underfoot and a bowl of ritual implements in her arms.

The hieroglyphic caption also indicates that she is impersonating a goddess. The artists portrays Lady Six Sky with spiritually charged regalia, including a woven skirt with jade beads, an elaborate belt assemblage featuring a supernatural watery being and Spondylus shell, and a feathered headdress, emphasizing the fluidity of identity between human leaders and gods. With this portrait, she underscored both her strategic prowess in warfare and her divine right to rule.

The government of Guatemala sharing two other important pieces from Piedras Negras with the Met, but not for display. As part of the loan agreement, the Met’s conservators will turn their keen eyes on one of Piedras Negras’ exceptional relief panels and a Throne 1, an elaborately carved stone throne that is widely considered a masterpiece of Maya sculpture. The spectacular throne was commissioned by the last king of Piedras Negras around 800 A.D. and it is covered with inscriptions detailing the dynastic succession of the previous kings of Piedras Negras.

The stele will be standing watch in Great Hall until August 2024, representing the art of the ancient Americas while The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing, the Met’s gallery dedicated to African Art, Ancient American art and Oceanic art, is closed for an expansive redesign and reconceptualization.

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Bronze Age log coffin found in golf course water trap

Saturday, September 11th, 2021

A 4,000-year-old Bronze Age wood coffin has been discovered in a golf course pond in Yorkshire. It contains human remains and an axe with a stone head and complete wooden handle in a condition so impeccable it could easily be confused for a tool of modern manufacture.

Workers were digging up a pond at Tetney Golf Club in July of 2018 with a mechanical excavator when they hit against the prehistoric coffin. They stopped what they were doing and called in an archaeologists from the University of Sheffield who arrived the next day to behold a muddy pit 12 feet deep with a wood coffin broken into several large pieces on the bottom. The wood, preserved for thousands of years in the waterlogged soil, was in immediate danger of drying out and falling apart from exposure to the air and the oppressive heat of the summer.

The rescue archaeology operation revealed that the wood pieces were part of a log coffin, the carved trunk of a fast-growing oak tree. It was made with the “split timber” technique, in which the trunk is cut vertically into two halves, or two near-halves, with one side larger than the other. The larger half would then be hollowed out. The smaller half could be made into a lid. Only a part of the lid of this coffin has survived.

Plants were used to cushion the body, then a gravel mound was raised over the grave; practices that were only afforded to people with a high status within Bronze Age society.

So far, yew or juniper leaves have been found within the coffin and further work is planned to discover more about how plants were used in this burial practice, and the time of year the burial took place.

Bronze Age log coffins are extremely rare; about 65 of them have been discovered in Britain. It was a brief-lived funerary practice that fell out of favor almost as quickly as it appeared about 4,000 years ago, and even if it had been more common, the decomposition of organic remains would destroy most of them.

Osteological analysis of the human remains found that he was  a tall man for his time, about 5’9″, and died in his late 30s or early 40s. Osteoarthritis in his bones indicates he did heavy work. He was a man of importance in his community. Carving out a person-sized log was time-consuming and resource-intensive; only the elite could afford so lavish a burial. The axe buried with him is also evidence he was a person of social rank. It is not a practical tool, but rather a ceremonial object, likely a symbol of authority. It is even more rare than the coffin. Only 12 from this period have been found in Britain.

The pieces of the coffin and the axe were transported to cold storage at the Mary Rose Trust in Portsmouth to arrest the decay and give researchers the opportunity to study them before the drying and stabilization process caused any changes. They were in cold storage for a year before being moved to the York Archaeological Trust for preservation.

The largest piece is from one end of the coffin. It is almost eight feet long and weighs half a ton. The entire coffin is estimated to have been just under 10 feet long and just over three feet wide. Preserving the large, heavy coffin wood is going to take at least two years. The axe is expected to take about a year to preserve. When they are fully conserved, the coffin and axe will go on display at The Collection Museum in Lincoln near where they were discovered.

See conservator Ian Panter working on the coffin and axe in this video:

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Possible human sacrifice found in Silla palace foundations

Friday, September 10th, 2021

The skeletal remains of a woman have been found under the west walls of the Wolseong Palace site in Gyeongju, South Korea, not 20 inches away from where the bones of a man and woman were discovered in 2017. The young woman’s burial dates to the 4th century and she may have been interred there as part of a foundation sacrifice.

When the remains of the two bodies were discovered, some raised the possibility that their deaths could have been accidental. But, the Cultural Heritage Administration concluded that the evidence — the remains showing no signs of struggle and the discoveries of animal bones and objects used for ancestral rites in the same area — clearly points that the pair died as part of a sacrificial ceremony.

“Now with the additional discovery, there’s no denying Silla’s practice of human sacrifice,” said Choi Byung-heon, professor emeritus of archaeology at Soongsil University, adding that the specific location of where the remains were discovered is also important.

According to Choi, the remains of three Silla people were laid on top of the bottommost layer of the fortress’s west wall, right in front of where the west gate would have been located.

“After finishing off the foundation and moving onto the next step of building the fortress, I guess it was necessary to really harden the ground for the fortress to stand strong. In that process, I think the Silla people held sacrificial rites, giving not only animals but also humans as sacrifices,” said Choi.

When the skeleton was found in April of this year, archaeologists first thought it was a child due its diminutive stature (135 cm, or 4’5″). Upon further examination, she was confirmed to be a young adult around 20 years old when she died. Isotope analysis of her teeth found she had suffered from chronic malnutrition which likely stunted her growth. The couple unearthed in 2017 were older in age but younger in date — around 50 years old when they died in the 5th century. They were also small in stature and had suffered extended nutritional deficiencies. This suggests all three of the deceased buried under the west wall were of low social rank.

An intact  pot was found near her head. It was X-rayed and found to contain a second vessel, a small bowl, inside the neck. Archaeologists believe the larger pot contained a liquid, perhaps alcohol. Similar pots were found at the feet of the couple. These are not the typical grave goods found in Silla burials from this period, which underscores that these were not typical burials.

Wolseong was the primary residence of Silla kings in Gyeongju, the kingdom’s capital city, until the fall of the Silla Dynasty in 935. According to a 12th century Korean history, Wolseong was built as a royal fortress by King Pasa in 101 A.D., but no archaeological evidence has been found to confirm so early an origin. Indeed, Accelerator Mass Spectrometer data narrowed down initial construction to the early 4th century and continuing for about 50 years.

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Bronze sacred tree found in Sanxingdui sacrificial pit

Thursday, September 9th, 2021

The excavation of one of the six newly-discovered sacrificial pits at the Sanxingdui Bronze Age archaeological site in southwest China’s Sichuan Province has unearthed a bronze sacred tree from the Shu culture, ca. 12th/11th century B.C. It was found in parts in Pit 3, and is so complex that its surviving branches, flowers, some of the trunk and solar wheel ornament took four months to fully excavate because they were buried under heavy layers of ivory and other artifacts. 

Sacred trees have been found before at the site. The 1986 excavation of Pit 2 unearthed hundreds of pieces from six to eight bronze trees, most of them modest in size. Only three of them could be pieced back together from their component parts. One of them, a colossal example that took conservators a decade to reassemble, is now on display as the centerpiece of the Sanxingdui Museum‘s exceptional collection of artifacts from the ancient site.

The massive restored tree consists of a three-legged base with a trunk growing out of it. The trunk is divided into three levels with three branches curling downward in each level. Flowers bloom on the high points of all nine of the branches and birds alight on the flowers. Each branch in turn branches off into three fruit-bearing branchlets, for a total of 27 fruits on the tree. A slim dragon with a horned head undulates down the lower segment of the trunk, his foot planted in the base.

There is very little concrete information about the Shu people and state as no written records have survived. The archaeological record and later chroniclers indicate the Shu religion was centered on sun worship, and the bronze trees may have been part of it. The Shu Legend of the Ten Suns held that birds carried nine suns on their backs, flying in the morning from a sacred tree in the East, and landing at night in a sacred tree in the West. Humans, according to the legend, only the saw the birds, not the suns they carried, so they lived their lives blithely unaware there were any other suns besides the one we know.

According to Xu [Feihong, excavation leader], the new one is similar to the No. 2 bronze tree which took archaeologists over a decade to restore. Yet, it’s still not complete with several parts missing.

“It cannot be ruled out that these two might belong to the same tree. If the two sacred trees in pits No. 2 and No. 3 are put together, they can explain a lot of academic issues,” said Xu.

There are no plans as of yet to embark on the reassembly and restoration of the Pit 3 tree, not until all six of the new sacrificial pits have been fully excavated. Armed with all the information and contents of the pits, archaeologists will then piece together this tree too, and it will go on display next to its brother from Pit 2.

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Tiles with Roman imperial mark found at Carlisle

Wednesday, September 8th, 2021

Tiles stamped with the imperial mark have been discovered at the Roman bathhouse on the grounds of the Carlisle Cricket Club in Stanwix, a suburb of Carlisle. Roman tile manufacturers put their brand on their products as a matter of course, and many surviving tiles bear their makers’ marks, but the IMP stamp is extremely rare. An usually large number of them — about a dozen — have been unearthed at this site.  The high concentration of IMP tiles suggest they were being manufactured there.

Lead archaeologist Frank Giecco:

“This is the imperial court stamping the tile. There have been a handful found in Carlisle at random places. We have probably got a dozen now from this site and it looks like this is where they are coming from.

It’s not a legion or anyone else – this is the signature of the Emperor. It’s been built by the imperial machine and it’s a connection.

The remains of the bathhouse were first discovered in 2017 during an archaeological survey at the proposed site of the club’s new pavilion. The expectation was they’d find a few scattered objects among the fill, but instead archaeologists landed upon entire rooms from a bathhouse complete with walls, painted plasterwork, intact floors, tile stacks for the hypocaust system, lengths of terracotta water pipes and a varied assortment of small artifacts like hair pins, coins and arrowheads.

It was a deluxe facility in the hinterlands of the northern border, and not meant for private citizens to take their ease, but rather to serve the men of the Ala Petriana, an elite cavalry regiment famed for its valor on the field that was stationed at Uxelodunum, the largest fort on Hadrian’s Wall.

Uxelodunum is modern Stanwix, today absorbed into the town of Carlisle which at that time was the Romano-British town of Luguvalio. The Romans had built a fort in the town earlier (ca. 72-3 A.D.) and when Emperor Hadrian ordered construction of the wall that would bear his name, the old Luguvalio fort was integrated into it, linking the town to the shiny new fort with all the amenities at Uxelodunum.

A carved sandstone slab inscribed with a tribute to Julia Domna, wife of Septimius Severus and mother of Caracalla. Both emperors personally led military campaigns in Britain, and Septimius actually died in York, 40 miles south of Carlisle, in 211. Between the inscription and the IMP tiles, it seems Uxelodunum had a direct link to the ruling family.

Giecco again:

“I can’t say that Septimus Severus ever set foot in Carlisle. Who knows.

“All we can say is that we have got a huge monumental building that has been built in Carlisle. The Emperor was in Britain at that time, we’ve got an inscription from his wife in the building and we have got his personal workshop-stamped tiles coming from the building.

“The evidence is building up that there is something really special going on here.”

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Stone spheres found in Orkney Neolithic tomb

Monday, September 6th, 2021

Two polished stone balls have been discovered in a Neolithic chambered tomb on the Tresness peninsula of the Orkney island of Sanday. The 5,500-year-old tomb is rapidly eroding, and archaeologists have been working assiduously to salvage any artifacts and fully document the structure before the cliff it is on collapses into the sea.

The Tresness tomb is one of fewer than 20 examples of a stalled cairn, a slab-built passage grave with a central chamber that is divided into compartments along its sides like horse stalls and topped with an barrow. It has five compartments. The southernmost one is partially eroded, but archaeologists believe it was the last cell at the end of the tomb.

In the Bronze Age, a round cairn was built on top of the Neolithic tomb, truncating it and stripping it of its original roof. When excavations resumed this year after last year’s COVID interruption, archaeologists removed the Bronze Age remains to reveal the full extent of the remaining Neolithic tomb. 

The polished stone balls were found in chamber one. They are about the size of cricket balls, and are finely carved and finished. The first is in excellent condition, perfectly spherical and glossy. The second has cracked along a band in the sandstone. That will repaired by conservators.

Only 20 stone balls from this period have been found on Orkney (about 500 have been discovered in Scotland as a whole), and of these, only a few have been archaeologically excavated from a burial site.

Carved stone balls were symbols of power and were probably used, along with perhaps maces, to inflict blunt force trauma to the head. One skull from the Cuween passage tomb on Orkney shows signs of such injury.

Two similar cases were also found by Dr Dave Lawrence at the Rowiegar chambered cairn on the island. At Tomb of the Eagles at Isbister, he found that both males and females, young and old, were harmed in this way.

The team has created 3D models of the Tresness stalled cairn before and after the removal of the Bronze Age round cairn.

Here is the tomb as it looked the first week of excavations, composed from photos taken on August 22nd, 2021. 

Here it is a week ago with the round barrow removed:

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A kilo of 6th century gold found in Jelling

Sunday, September 5th, 2021

A hoard of gold objects from the 6th century has been discovered in a farmed field outside the town of Jelling, South Jutland, Denmark. The 22 objects have a total combined weight of 945 grams, so just under a kilo.

They were discovered in December by metal detectorist Ole Schytz who was new at the hobby and hadn’t even been out with his machine 10 times when he stumbled on one of the largest and most significant gold hoards ever found in Denmark. He alerted authorities and archaeologists from the Vejle Museums excavated the find site, keeping the massive find secret until now to deter looters.

The hoard contains two Roman gold coins that have been converted into pendants — including a gold solidus of Constantine the Great (285-337 AD) — and one piece of jewelry with gold granulation in an elaborate pattern, but most of the pieces in the hoard are bracteates. Bracteates were round medallions worn as pendants that were made in Northern Europe during the Migration Period. Typically bracteates are penny-sized with rudimentary engravings of figures from Nordic mythology. These are unusually large, the size of small saucers, and the quality of decoration is exceptionally high. They are also unusually varied. Often bracteates found in hoards are very similar in design, but every one of these is different, and there are runs and motifs never seen before on other bracteates.

The excavation revealed that the hoard was buried under the floor of a longhouse, and only a very powerful, very wealthy individual could have collected a treasure this vast. Archaeologists know there was a small town here during the Migration Period, but there was no previous indication that it was sufficiently important to attract a resident who was so massively wealthy and powerful that he could acquire so much gold and attract  artisans of such high caliber.

Many of the large gold hoards discovered in Scandinavia from this period are believed to have been buried as desperate offerings to appease the gods after a volcanic eruption in 535/536 A.D. generated an ash cloud that blocked the sun and caused widespread crop failure and famine. If it was not an offering, the hoard may have been buried to protect it from being stolen during this turbulent time.

One of the bracteates features the profile of a male head with a braid of hair. A bird is in front of him — they appear to be conversing — and under him is a horse. Between the horse’s head and front legs is a runic inscription that a preliminary translation interprets as “houaʀ” meaning “the High.” This may be a reference to the leader who buried the hoard, or the god Odin.

The gold objects are currently being conserved. The folded and bent pieces will be straightened out as much as prudence allows. In February, they will go on display at the Vejle Art Museum.

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