Archive for June, 2021

Sarcophagus motherlode found in Turkish olive grove

Wednesday, June 30th, 2021

An olive grove three miles outside the town center of İznik (Nicea) in western Turkey’s Bursa province has proven such a rich source of elaborate Imperial Roman sarcophaguses that archaeologists believe it may have been an ancient necropolis.

The first sarcophagus was discovered in November 2015. Looters had gotten there first, sadly, and in their zeal to steal broke a foot-wide hole in the formerly pristine lid of the sarcophagus. The seven ton marble sarcophagus was raised and ultimately installed in the garden of the İznik Museum along with other ancient funerary monuments found in the area.

It is an Attic style sarcophagus, rectangular in shape with a steeply pitched gabled roof. Elaborately decorated on all four sides, figures stand out in high relief against an architectural background of fluted columns topped with arched and peaked pediments. Each of the intercolumniations contain a character from Greek mythology. Researchers identified the carvings on one side of the sarcophagus as a scene from the Illiad: Briseis being taken from Achilles by Agamemnon. On the left is Achilles seated on a curule chair (a Roman symbol of political, military and religious power) playing the lyre. Facing him on the right, his hand to his helmet perhaps in the act of putting on Achilles’ armor in anticipation of fighting the Trojans in his stead. In the center intercolumniation is Briseis, the princess enslaved by Achilles after he killed her family and sacked Lyrnessus. She sits on a more simple curule chair and glances outwards. The two men to her right are Talthybios and Eurybates, envoys of Agamemnon who have been sent to claim Briseis for their master to make up for his having had to give up his own war prisoner/sex slave, Chryseis, because she was the daughter of a priest of Apollo and the deity insisted on her return.

Scenes from the life of Achilles were a popular motif for sarcophagus reliefs, most often episodes that feature death — Achilles slaying Hector, dragging his body behind his chariot, mourning Patroclus — which has obvious relevance in funerary art. The taking of Briseis appears on its face to be a little more obscure a connection, but Achilles’ anger and its massive body count is literally the first line of the Illiad, and his rage towards Agamemnon over Briseis sets off a chain of death, and two of the victims, Patroclus and Hector, are then further outraged by Achilles’ refusal to allow them proper burial.

A year later, police on the search for a stolen vehicle noticed illegal excavations were taking place again in the grove. They alerted museum officials and 24/7 security was put in place to protect the site during the ensuing archaeological excavations. Three more Roman-era sarcophagi were unearthed from the grove in this excavation, including another one with a peaked roof decorated with erotes and botanical akroteria. A funerary stele was discovered near it. Three brick tombs had been built next to the marble one, perhaps the final resting places of people employed by the noble deceased.

The three additional sarcophagi were raised for cleaning, conservation and perhaps installation in the museum, but they might end up back with its olive family. After the 2017 excavation, Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism tried to acquire the olive grove for the nation. Their offer of 500,000 lira was a distinct lowball, and the owners took it to court. Experts assessed the fair market value of the 10-acre property at 1,094,000 lira, so the ministry had to cough up double to secure the field. The plan is to excavate the grove thoroughly and create an open-air museum featuring its remarkable assemblage of high-end sarcophagi.

4,400-year-old snake staff found in Finnish lake

Tuesday, June 29th, 2021

A wooden staff carved in the shape of a snake has been discovered at the prehistoric site near the town of Järvensuo in southwest Finland. Radiocarbon dating of the wood found it was made in the Late Neolithic, ca. 2471-2291 B.C. The find is unique on the archaeological record; the closest comparable artifact in design and date is a small clay figurine found 60 miles away in the 1960s.

The Järvensuo 1 site was first discovered accidentally by a ditch-digger in the 1950s by the southern shore of Rautajärvi Lake. The initial find of a wooden paddle, radiocarbon dated to 3331–2462 B.C., was followed decades later by other prehistoric finds, including a scoop with handle carved in the shape of a bear head, preserved in the waterlogged soil. Most of Finland has highly acidic soil that makes short shrift of organic remains, so its wetlands, under active threat by drainage and peat mining, are of priceless archaeological resource.

New excavations began in 2020, 35 years after the last ones, and the digs have revealed a stratigraphy stretching back 5,000 years, including phases of human activity. The wooden snake was unearthed last summer. It was found lying on its right side in a layer of peat two feet below the surface. It is 21 inches long and 1.2 inches thick at its widest point. It was carved from a single piece of wood with the head of the serpent at one end, two gentle bends conveying its sinuous body and tapering down to the tip of the tail. Its surface is smooth without ornamentation, but it is artfully designed with a slim neck leading to a raised, flat head with an open mouth.

While snakes are not a common theme in the Neolithic art of North Europe, there are some rock carvings and paintings that depict snakes, including one with its mouth open. At least two prehistoric rock paintings in Finland feature a man holding aloft a curvaceous staff reminiscent of the Järvensuo piece.

Ancient rock art from Finland and northern Russia shows human figures with what look like snakes in their hands, which are thought to be portrayals of shamans wielding ritual staffs of wood carved to look like snakes. [University of Helsinki archaeologist Antti] Lahelma said snakes were regarded as especially sacred in the region.

“There seems to be a certain connection between snakes and people,” Lahelma told Antiquity. “This brings to mind northern shamanism of the historical period, where snakes had a special role as spirit-helper animals of the shaman … Even though the time gap is immense, the possibility of some kind of continuity is tantalizing: Do we have a Stone Age shaman’s staff?”

The snake staff has been published in the journal Antiquity and can be read in its entirety here.

Early Christian graves found in Sweden

Monday, June 28th, 2021

Seven early Christian graves from the Viking Age have been discovered in Sigtuna, southeastern Sweden. They were found in an archaeological survey at the site of a planned residential building on a hill on the western edge of the historic town, and date to the end of the 10th century when the hill was on the outskirts of the town.

The seven graves contain the remains of eight individuals as one of them was a double burial of two infants who likely died in or shortly after childbirth. Objects were found in the graves — coins, a comb, a knife, the remains of a belt — typical of pagan funerary practices, but the east-west orientation indicates these were Christian burials. They are markedly different, however, from previous early Christian burials found in Sigtuna. Several of the deceased were placed in wooden coffins that were then buried on a stone-lined bed and covered with more stones. None of the coffins survive, but iron nails attest to their use.

This tomb design hasn’t been found in the town before, although some have been found in the wider area. Before this discovery, the earliest Christian burials in Sigtuna were spare, simple east-west inhumations with no grave goods. Archaeologists have postulated that there must have been knowledgeable and experienced priests in Sigtuna to ensure a strict adherence to Christian burial practice during what was still a transitional period between belief systems. If so, the recently-unearthed hilltop graves predated their arrival.

Sigtuna was founded on the banks of Lake Mälaren in the 970s by King Eric the Victorious. It was briefly that capital under the reign of Eric’s son Olof Skötkonung, first Christian king of Sweden. The first Swedish coins were struck by the mint in Sigtuna from the 990s until the early 1030s. Its growth and prosperity began to decline when the episcopal seat was moved to Old Uppsala around 1164, and the town lost its central economic, political and religious significance to its neighbors.

The bones and grave goods are now being studied and analyzed. Researchers hope to be able to pinpoint the dates of the burials more precisely to shed new light on early Christian burials in Sigtuna. The objects will be conserved for later display at the Sigtuna Museum.

Sandstone equestrian relief found at Vindolanda

Sunday, June 27th, 2021

A sandstone relief of a man holding a spear standing in front of a donkey or horse has been unearthed at the Roman fort of Vindolanda in Northumberland. The stone is intact, a rectangle with a peaked top that measures 160mm wide by 315mm high (6.3×12.4 inches). It was discovered embedded face up in the floor of a 4th century building. This was a reuse. The relief would originally have been placed in a fitted niche.

Site archaeologist Marta Alberti, one of the team overseeing the excavations at Vindolanda, is now piecing together all the clues to try and establish who the carving may represent, and with no comparable discoveries at Vindolanda and no inscription on the relief those clues are in finer details of the carving. Marta commented “The nakedness of the man means he is probably a god, rather than a mere cavalryman, he is also carrying a spear in his right arm, a common attribute of the god of War – Mars, however when you look at his head, the two almost circular features could be identified as wings: a common attribute of Mercury – god of travel. Horses and donkeys are also often associated with Mercury as a protector of travellers”.

Another clue is not in the find itself but where it was found. The stone floor was very close to that of a large 4th century cavalry barrack. The units residing in the part of the fort may have had their own interpretation of Mars, or Mercury, or a third and so far unidentified version of the god merging the qualities of both. Marta commented “this interesting relief may represent something we have not only never seen before but something we may never see again”.

The volunteer excavations, a popular yearly feature of the Vindolanda site, had to be deferred in 2020. The finders of the relief, Richie Milor and David Goldwater of Newcastle, have been dedicated Vindolanda volunteer excavators for more than 15 years, making a yearly pilgrimage to join in the dig. The resumption of excavations in March 2021 marked their triumphant return to keep their long streak going, and Vindolanda celebrated by giving them a unique artifact to find.

David noted that “I saw one of the legs of the horse first and then the pointed top of the relief “, Richie said “we are just absolutely elated, very proud to be part of this discovery, it was actually very emotional. Whether you find something or not we love coming to this site, playing our small part in the research that takes place, but finding this made it a very special day indeed.”

The Roman Fort and Roman Army Museum at Vindolanda just reopened June 15th after having been closed since lockdowns began in March 2020. A selection of current finds, including the equestrian relief, going on display at the museum on July 1st.

Shell mound skeleton is world’s oldest shark attack victim

Saturday, June 26th, 2021

The skeleton of a Neolithic fisherman found in a shell mound in Japan is the world’s earliest confirmed victim of a fatal shark attack. Discovered at the Tsukumo Neolithic shell mound in the village of Nishi Oshima, Okayama Prefecture, the he bones have been radiocarbon dated to between 1370 and 1010 B.C. The previous oldest-known shark attack was far more recent, dating to around 1000 A.D.

The first human remains were discovered at Tsukumo in 1870. They were in the surface soil layer, likely scattered by agricultural work, but it wasn’t until professional excavations took place between 1915 and 1920 that dozens of skeletons buried in crouched position were discovered in the thick black soil and shell strata in the middle of the mound, revealing it to be a Neolithic cemetery. Personal ornaments — shell bracelets, deer antler earrings, decoratively incised bone and a necklace of serpentine beads — a smattering of stone tools and pieces of pottery identify it as burial mound of the fisher-hunter-gatherer Jōmon culture.

Oxford University researchers have been restudying Neolithic skeletal remains in the collection of Kyoto University looking for evidence of trauma. On the last day of the visit to Japan, they opened the box containing the remains of Tsukumo No. 24. Unearthed around 1920, Individual Number 24 was buried in a crouched position, his left hand and right leg missing. His disarticulated left leg was placed on top of his body with the foot pointing towards the head.

The research team found his bones were absolutely riddled with traumatic injuries, at least 790 deep, serrated wounds to his arms, legs, abdomen and chest. The team compared the wounds to weapons from the period and nothing matched. The sharp v-shaped cuts were the kind inflicted by a honed metal blade, materials not available to the Jōmon people. No land animal, predator or scavenger, had teeth that match the injuries. Comparison to modern cases of shark attacks finally solved the mystery. All of the characteristics of the wounds were found in modern victims of shark attacks, and the distribution pattern of the wounds, which shows a preference for certain areas, also matches shark attack data.

The team recorded every injury and used 3D modeling software to make a precise map of the wounds on the skeleton. They were able to reconstruct the likely progression of the attack.

The pelvis has tooth marks in the area near where he lost his right leg. The majority of larger bites on the lower body suggest that he was probably in deep water, possibly swimming, and was alive at the time of the attack. The missing, sheared off left hand best is explained as a defensive wound as he tried to fend off an attack from below. The skull and vertebrae are free of injuries most likely because they didn’t offer enough flesh to interest the attacker. […]

The completeness and trauma of Tsukumo No. 24 were mapped and quickly showed that a number of bites would have severed major arteries, suggesting that he would have lost consciousness within a few minutes and died soon afterwards.

Given the speed of the attack and its fatal conclusion, it was probably seen by witnesses, perhaps his fellow fishers, who were able to recover most of his body for burial. They must have been very quick about it, as even the tiny bones of his right hand are still present and they would have very quickly been lost to the deep. They either scrupulously scooped up his left leg with his body, or his left leg was only attached by a thread when they got his body out of the water and it came off in transport.

The serrated tooth marks narrow down the sharp species to either a tiger shark or a white shark. There were hundreds of overlapping bite marks and no one perfectly outlined tooth, so researchers were not able to conclusively identify which of the two shark species it was.

The paper has been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. Explore the 3D model of the shark attack wounds here:

Colosseum underground opens to the public

Friday, June 25th, 2021

For the first time in the Colosseum’s long history, the subterranean levels will be fully open to the public. The hypogea, the backstage (understage?) area where gladiators and beasts awaited deployment via ingenious raising mechanisms that thrust them up through trapdoors onto the arena, have never before been open in their entirety to visitors.

When the Flavian Amphitheatre was inaugurated in 80 A.D., the underground structures were wood. Ancient sources including Martial, who was an eye-witness to the inaugural games and recorded the events in his Epigrams, Suetonius and Cassius Dio refer to the arena having been flooded to stage naval battles and other water spectacles, but this could not have been the large-scale warship clashes that were held at the permanent lake created by Augustus for the purpose. If it was floodable, it was likely more like a channel system or simply a shallow basin under the stage.

Whatever the nature of the water shows at the Colosseum, in 85 A.D. Domitian had the original underground replaced with the complex vaulted tunnels and shafts of brick and stone structures we see now, so there arena could no longer be floodable. A large central passage divides 14 corridors, seven on each side. At the ends of the corridors are rooms which held large freight elevators that raised fighters, prisoners, props and animals up to the arena floor with complex wood and rope pulley systems.

This is the final phase of a decade-long restoration funded by Tod’s shoe mogul Diego Della Valle who donated €25 million to keep the world wonder from literally falling to pieces and taking untold numbers of tourists with it. After directed restoration work, a small section of the hypogeum was opened to the public in 2016 but the underground was closed off again when the comprehensive restoration of the entire space began in December 2018.

Starting June 26th, visitors who purchase the “Full Experience” ticket can safely explore the 15 corridors trod by gladiator and wild beast over 160 meters of accessible passageways that have been mounted throughout the labyrinthine environment. Audio/video and human guides will explain how the hypogeum was used over the centuries between the Colosseum’s 100 days of inaugural games and celebration of the last games held there, an animal hunt in honor of the consulship of Anicius Maximus in 523.

See The Night Watch uncropped after 300 years

Thursday, June 24th, 2021

For the first time in more than three centuries, you can see The Night Watch complete as it was when Rembrandt painted it. Even though it was already hailed as a masterpiece upon its completion in 1642, the monumental oil on canvas work was callously trimmed to fit a smaller wall when it was moved in 1715. The Rijksmuseum’s Operation Night Watch team has recreated the lost sections and mounted them with the original so visitors can enjoy the full expanse of Rembrandt’s vision.

When commissioned by Captain Frans Banninck Cocq and the Amsterdam civic militia he led, the Night Watch was installed in the Great Hall of the Kloveniersdoelen, the newly-built headquarters of the militia. It was moved to City Hall in 1715 and to squeeze it between two columns, it was cropped on all four sides. The right side suffered the least, losing only 7 cm (2.75″). The left side took the brunt of the cropping; the strip removed was 64.4 cm (23″) wide. The top lost 23.3 cm (9″) and bottom strip 11.3 cm (4.4″). This was a common practice at the time even for much smaller paintings. Nobody protested and as far as we know, none of the trimmings have survived although even chopped up Rembrandts were selling for big money by then and one of the strips had two figures on it that would have been saleable.

Thankfully, Captain Frans Banninck Cocq had the wherewithal to commission a small-scale (less than 1/5th the size) copy of the painting between 1642 and 1655. It is attributed to Gerrit Lundens who was known for his copies of old masters. It is now part of the collection of the National Gallery. Using the Lundens copy as a guide and using artificial intelligence programmed with high-resolution scan data of Rembrandt’s technique and color use in the painting, the Operation Night Watch team was able to reconstruct the missing sections of the painting at the scale of the original in Rembrandt’s style. The recreated sections were then printed on canvas, varnished and mounted on metal plates for structural support.

You can zoom in on some of the notable details here, and this video gives a great overview of the reconstruction.

Roman seal ring with Achilles killing Penthesilea found in Pyrenees

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2021

A Roman seal ring with a gemstone carved with a dynamic image of Achilles supporting Amazon queen Penthesilea after he killed her has been discovered at the archaeological site of Tossal de Baltarga in the Catalan Pyrenees. The ring is made of a single wide hoop of iron with the oval intaglio gemstone set in a beveled border. From comparison to similar types found at other sites, the ring dates to around 100-50 B.C.

Achilles, in full armor wielding sword and shield, is depicted supporting a dying Penthesilea, his helmet crest waving as he turns. He has fatally wounded her. The Amazon queen is on her knees with her head bowed, leaning on her labrys. Achilles attempts to hold her up below her left arm. Their clothing is finely detailed, his double-row pteruges (the skirt of leather or stiffened linen flaps worn under Roman and Greek cuirasses) and shoulder strips are individually outlined. Penthesilea’s chiton is meticulously rendered with pointed tails on the short skirt and diagonal folds wrapping her thighs leaving her legs free. You can even see the lines of her sandals on her right foot. Her hair is in a tight bun at the nape of her neck. All of this carved into a stone just 17 x 15.5 mm (.7 x .6 inches).

The motif of Achilles supporting the woman he has slain as she draws her last breaths is frequently seen in Greco-Roman decorative arts, drawn from the Homeric tradition that that Achilles dealt the mortal blow, removed her helmet and then fell instantly in love with her. The 2nd century geographer Pausanias notes in his Description of Greece that the throne of the monumental sculpture of Zeus in his temple at Olympia had a relief of “Penthesileia giving up the ghost and Achilles supporting her.” A marble relief of the same scene from the Sanctuary of Aphrodite Aphrodisias survives.

The quality of the intaglio is so high it cannot have been made by local Iberian craftsman. It was so high, in fact, that such a ring is unlikely to have been worn by an Iberian, not even a member of the local elite. This was a luxury import of a type not found in Iberia before the Roman occupation, and there is no evidence of trade or economic activity at the site that would explain its presence there; a Roman must have brought it to Tossal de Baltarga, likely a Roman officer.

Iron seal rings have been found before at Late Republican army and battle sites in Iberia. They were expensive items, but made out of durable iron rather than more ornamental precious metals, and they served practical uses as well. They were used to sign documents, both personal and official, which links the rings to the administration of governmental and military functions, and they were also a kind of dog tag, a means of identifying a Roman officer fallen in battle.

Three iron seal rings have been found in the Republican Roman layers of Tossal de Baltarga, which was occupied in three phases from the Bronze Age until its abandonment in the 1st century B.C. The iron ring with Achilles and Penthesilea intaglio was unearthed in 2017 in Building F which was built in the middle of the 2nd century B.C. and abandoned between 50 and 30 B.C. The rings, the concentration of coinage and hobnails from caligae found at the site indicate it housed a small military garrison centered around a watchtower that would have been of strategic significance to control the nearby Pyrenean pass during the wars of the declining days of the Republic, including Caesar’s conquest of Gaul (58-50 B.C.) and the rebellion of Quintus Sertorius (80–72 B.C.).

We [the researchers] therefore suggest that the loss of the seal-rings is linked to the abandonment of Tossal de Baltarga, caused by the military campaigns in the territory of the Cerretanii during the mid- or later first century B.C. Although no evidence of violent destruction at the settlement has been encountered so far, its key role as a major outpost in the area could suggest that the garrison was rapidly withdrawn. In this scenario, the seal-rings could have been lost or left behind, and the settlement abandoned as part of a major reconfiguration of the territory after the suppression of the last uprising of the Cerretanii in 39 B.C.

The study has been published in the European Journal of Archeology but is alas paywalled.

Hero conservator busts huge loot collector

Monday, June 21st, 2021

The Italian Carabinieri Art Squad in collaboration with European authorities has confiscated almost 800 ancient southern Italian artifacts from the home of an unnamed wealthy collector in a town near Antwerp. The 782 archaeological objects were all illegally excavated from the region of Puglia. They date to between the 6th century B.C. and the 3rd century B.C. and are worth an estimated $13 million, if their immense archaeological value could ever be assessed in market terms.

This bust was the result of three years of investigation, and it all started thanks to an eagle-eyed conservator. In 2017, a conservator at the restoration laboratory for the Archaeological Superintendency of the Foggia area spotted a stele of the Daunian civilization published in the catalogue of a 1993 exhibition of ancient Italic art at the Rath Museum in Geneva. The stele was missing a central area. The incised design at the margins of the gap completed the design of a mounted warrior on a fragment of a stele in the Archaeological Museum of Trinitapoli.

The Daunian people inhabited the north of Apulia in the 1st millennium B.C., one of three tribes that grew from the union of Illyrian and Mycenean Greek settlers in the region. The Daunians assimilated less with the indigenous Italic peoples than the other two tribes and developed characteristic monuments and pottery unique to them. Of particular note are their funerary steles, made between the late 8th century B.C. and the 6th century B.C. and incised with elaborate decorations representing the deceased. No two are alike and they are very much peculiar to the Foggia-Barletta area that was the epicenter of Daunian culture.

So when the stele in the catalogue picture seemed to be an exact fit for a fragment in the museum, Italian authorities reached out to INTERPOL to find out who this Belgian owner was. His identity determined, the next step was securing a warrant to search his property and recover any other funerary artifacts looted from Apulian tombs.

The stele was found in his possession and it matched the fragment exactly, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. Police confiscated an unprecedented quality of Apulian objects: red-figure, black-figure pottery and geometric pottery both Attic and local, Daunian steles, Greek terracotta figurines, clay heads, winged statuettes. Apulian works with anything like a legal ownership record are vanishingly rare and even the few in major institutions around the world can only be traced to the 1990s, so a full museum secreted in one guy’s house in Antwerp can only have been secured through years of dedicated traffic in looted archaeological objects. He didn’t just amass this number of high-quality Apulian artifacts in excellent condition by browsing flea markets and antique shops.

He, of course, contested the seizure of his looted antiquities, but all of his appeals have failed and the collection has now been transferred to Italy where archaeologists will study and document it thoroughly.

Gold disc, symbol of Cusco, returned to Peru

Sunday, June 20th, 2021

Echenique Disc repatriated to Peru. Photo courtesy the National Museum of the American IndianThe Smithsonian has agreed to repatriate a pre-Inca gold disc to Peru 119 years after its aquistion. The National Museum of the American Indian signed a memorandum of understanding with the Peruvian government for the return of the Echenique Disc, a gold disc whose design is the official symbol and shield of the city of Cusco. It was officially transferred to the Peruvian ambassador to the United States at his residence in Washington, D.C., on June 15th.

The object is a thin sheet of hammered gold about five inches in diameter. The alloy is relatively pure, composed of 90% gold, 5% silver and 5% copper, so just shy of 22 karats in modern classification. In the center is a fanged feline face with large rounded eyes and a snout-like nose, a design seen frequently in ancient Peruvian ornaments and pottery. It had a supernatural connotation — perhaps representing a deity — and indicated the high status of its owner. There are holes and slits cut into the sheet and it is believed to have been worn as a pectoral ornament.

The outer border is divided evenly into 20 sections that contain a variety of imagery including anthropomorphic figures, geometric shapes, crescent moons and other symbols. Their meaning has not been deciphered but may indicate the disc was a solar or lunar calendar. It is more than 2,000 years old, the most recent scholarship placing it between 800 B.C. and 1 A.D., and is a masterful example of ancient Andean goldsmithing.

As with so many cultural heritage artifacts that wound up far from their origins, the disc’s history is mysterious. It first emerged on the record in 1853 when it was given as a ceremonial gift along with several other ancient objects to then-Peruvian president José Rufino Echenique during an official visit to Cusco. Where it came from, who gave it to him, anything at all about its past before that point is unknown.

Things get murky again after that as the disc and other objects gifted to Echenique just sort of disappeared for a while. Julio Tello Rojas, father of Peruvian archaeology, tried to track them down in the 1920s and failed. He believed they had been sent to Chile and were destroyed in a fire in Santiago. He was wrong, at least in part, because in 1912 it was sold privately by Dr. Edward Gaffron, a German doctor who lived in Peru for decades and built an enormous collection of ancient Peruvian artifacts, to collector George Heye, founder of the Museum of the American Indian in New York which was later incorporated into the Smithsonian as the National Museum of the American Indian.

Gold ornamental plume or pin, ca. 200 B.C.–A.D. 400.  Photo courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art.The Smithsonian’s provenance for the disc records that in fact it was inherited by one of Echenique’s daughters who then sold it to Gaffron, and there are at least two other artifacts in museums that are believed to have been part of the Echenique group. One is a gold ornamental plume or pin incised on both sides with a similar supernatural feline figure, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They don’t know its provenance either. Big blank before 1850 and between then and its acquisition from a German private collection in 1942. Interesting German connection there; maybe Dr. Gaffron got his hands on more of the Echenique treasure than the one disc we know about.

The choice of the disc as the official shield of Cusco was a pointed one. In 1986, the city council passed a law prohibiting the use of any post-Conquest Spanish colonialist imagery in Cusco’s coat of arms. Today replicas of it adorns the streets, fountains and buildings of Cusco’s historic center. The original is expected to be returned to Cusco for permanent display, and Cusco’s mayor Victor Boluarte is hoping to coordinate with Peru’s Culture Ministry for its return by June 24th, the day of the Inti Raymi celebration, the Festival of the Sun, an ancient Inca ritual which is the culmination of the Jubilee month celebrating the heritage of the imperial city.




June 2021


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