Archive for August, 2021

Urartian ruler buried with 4 horses found

Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

The grave of a man buried with four horses, cattle, sheep and his dog has been discovered in the ancient fortress site of Çavuştepe near Van in eastern Turkey. The burial is about 2,800 years old and likely belonged to a member of the ruling and/or military elite of the Kingdom of Urartu. This is the first instance of an individual buried with animals on the Urartian archaeological record.

Excavation leader Professor Rafet Çavuşoğlu:

“This place has always brought firsts to us about the Urartian burial tradition. Today, we have encountered one of those firsts. In the studies we carried out with our expert team, we found an in-situ [in its original place] tomb. We saw a human being buried with his animals. Pieces of pottery were found right next to it. Here we also found an oil lamp with a bulb that we have never seen before. It also gives important tips about lighting.”

The citadel, known as Çavuştepe Castle today, was built by the Urartian King Sarduri II (r. 764–735 B.C.). The site includes remains of Sarduri ‘s royal palace, a temple, fortification walls and utility buildings (storehouses, workshops). The tomb was discovered during excavations of the citadel’s necropolis where last year the remains of a child wearing dragon-headed bracelets were unearthed. It contained the skeletal remains of an adult male (human), and partial remains of the animals. Of the four horses, two of them have complete skulls and jaws.

The grave is still in the course of being excavated. The bones will be removed for analysis and dating in the laboratory

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Gun that killed Billy the Kid sells for $6 million

Monday, August 30th, 2021

The gun used by Sheriff Pat Garrett to kill Billy the Kid on July 14th, 1881, sold at auction Friday for $6,030,313. In brisk bidding from around the world, the Colt .44 revolver blew past the pre-sale estimate of $2-3 million to set a new auction sale record for a firearm.

The six million dollar gun was actually on Billy’s side at first. It belonged to Billy Wilson, one of the Kid’s gang, when Pat Garrett captured the surviving members of the gang at Stinking Springs on December 23rd, 1880. Garrett confiscated Wilson’s Colt and his Winchester rifle and used them in the line of duty. Billy the Kid was brought to trial and sentenced to death on April 13th. Fifteen days later, he escaped from Lincoln County courthouse jail killing two deputies on his way out. Garrett tracked Billy the Kid to the Pete Maxwell ranch in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, and shot him to death.

The Winchester rifle Garrett took from Wilson was also part of this auction, as were two of the weapons Kid stole during his escape from the Lincoln County Courthouse: the shotgun he took from Deputy Bob Olinger and then used to kill him, and a Winchester 73 he stole from the open armory on his way out the door.

Another famed weapon belonging to an icon of the West was also sold at this auction: Wild Bill Hickok’s trusty Springfield Trapdoor rifle that was buried with him in Deadwood after his murder by the coward Jack McCall in 1876. It is the only firearm thoroughly authenticated as having belonged to James Butler Hickok. His name (“J.B. Hickock”) is carved on the left side of the stock, his monogram (“JB”) on the right.

Deadwood’s expansion collided with Wild Bill’s resting place in 1879. The town’s first cemetery, Ingleside Cemetery, was cleared of its dead and became the Ingleside neighborhood. All the exhumed remains were moved to the new Mount Moriah Cemetery. Hickok’s body was moved by four men, including Bill’s old friend Charlie Utter and the rifle was not reburied. Soon thereafter it was in the possession of one John Bradley of Spearfish, South Dakota, who used it for years. It stayed in the family until 1993 when it was sold to Jim Earle.

The pre-sale estimate for Wild Bill’s rifle was  $150,000-$250,000. It sold for $475,312 more than double the high end of the estimate.

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Only known Roman chandelier restored

Sunday, August 29th, 2021

A large circular ceramic oil lamp that is the only known surviving Roman chandelier has been restored and put on display in the Archaeological Museum at Elda on the Mediterranean coast of southeastern Spain. The chandelier is more than a foot and a half in diameter and originally blazed with 32 points of light fueled by olive oil. A maker’s mark on the lamp identifies it as having been manufactured in the 1st century A.D. in the workshop of Lucius Eros, a local potter who did posterity the favor of engraving his name on the molds used to make all of his ceramic lamps.

Founded in the 5th century B.C. as a fortified hilltop settlement in the El Monastil mountain range overlooking the Vinalopó River. The Iberian oppidium prospered from farming, hunting and forestry. The area was also rich in raw materials for ceramic production, and by the 1st century B.C. there were active commercial pottery kilns at the site and a distinctive El Monastil style had emerged.

Come the Roman defeat of Carthage, the area fell under the Roman sphere of influence. The modest Iberian town flourished thanks to its advantageous position on the river and midway along the Via Augusta than ran the length of southern Spain from Narbo (Narbonne) in the Pyrenees to Gades (Cádiz) on the Atlantic. The Romanized town, dubbed Elo, thrived off trade with Roman territories in Italy, France and North Africa, and ceramic production increased. With three kilns and a large workshop, Lucius Eros was one of the more successful potters in 1st century Elo.

In 1989, Antonio M. Poveda, professor of Ancient History at the University of Alcalá de Henares and director on sabbatical from the Elda Museum, discovered pieces of Roman pottery from the 1st century A.D. in El Monastil, in the exact spot where Lucius had his workshop. Among the artifacts found were the remains of what had been ceramic oil lamps with multiple spikes with a hole through which the wick would have emerged. Between 2009 and 2010, more fragments of at least two of these large lamps were recovered, which also featured ducts through which oil was introduced.

According to Poveda, “this type of lighting product must have been difficult to manufacture, requiring specialized potters, such as Lucius Eros’ staff. Because of their expense, they would not have been abundant, being reserved for the illumination of large rooms in the homes of the wealthy or in institutional buildings.” The archaeologist believes that Lucius’ workshop would mainly receive orders from large nearby cities, such as Ilici (now Elche) or Lucentum (now Alicante).

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17th c. fluyt shipwreck identified

Saturday, August 28th, 2021

The 17th century fluyt discovered in the Gulf of Finland last summer has been identified as the Swan, built in 1636. It was a carved timber transom, preserved in the cold and shipworm-free waters of the Eastern Baltic that solved the mystery. This is the first time a 17th century has been identified from markings on its transom.

The merchant vessel was found on the seabed 280 feet beneath the surface by divers from the Finnish organization Badewanne which documents and maps the many shipwrecks from the World Wars that litter the Gulf of Finland. The ship had been damaged by fishing trawlers. Its three masts had been pulled out and some of the deck timbers. The wooden transom, once mounted vertically above the stern post and tiller, had broken off and fallen face down onto the seabed under the stern.

Fluyt ships typically carried a transom plate that was engraved with key data about the ship — the name in figure form, the year of construction, often the coat of arms of the vessel’s home port — so it was important to get a look at the face of the transom. With a 20-minute limit on dives and just a few days to do them in, Badewanne divers were unable to turn the heavy timber over last year.

They returned to the find site this summer for a two-week diving camp to explore the wreck while filming a documentary about it, and this time they were able to turn the transom over, revealing the engraved image of a swan and the year 1636. At the time carving on the transom was often a visual depiction of the name of the ship to make it recognizable without requiring literacy. The large swan standing in profile above the 1636 construction date was not a random decoration, therefore, but rather the ship’s name. The corroded circle is likely the attachment point of a lantern, now lost.

The diving team took detailed measurements and photographs of the wreck. The images were stitched together to create a detailed photogrammetric 3D model of the wreck. Extrapolating from the model, researchers were able to calculate the original dimensions of the ship before its sinking. The team hopes to be able to find documentary records of the fluyt now that they know the name, year and measurements.

According to Niklas Eriksson, a maritime archaeologist at Stockholm University specialising in fluits, the ships were identified at the time on the basis of the information engraved on the transom. Pieces of the transom have been found in marine archaeological research in the past, but this is the first time, according to Eriksson, that all transom information is available.

“More detailed investigations are likely to reveal the coat of arms that will show the ship’s home port,” Eriksson said.

The real reason for the sinking of the ship may never be clear, Polkko said, noting that there are a couple of manual water pumps on the deck of the wreck. This suggests the crew may not have had time to pump water out fast enough.

“At that time, grain was transported in the hold of the ships. If a lot of water gets in there, it could block the pumps,” Polkko explained.

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Repatriated looted glazed bricks go on display

Friday, August 27th, 2021

A group of 51 painted glazed bricks from the little-known Mannaean civilization that were looted from ancient site of Qalaichi in northwestern Iran will go on display for the first time in Bukan City, five miles from where they were plundered four decades ago.

The bricks were manufactured in the 8th or 7th century B.C. and are each about one square foot in dimension. They feature a variety of decorative motifs, from simple monochrome paint, floral and geometric designs to depictions of sphinxes, antelopes, birds of prey, rams and lamassus (winged bulls with human heads).

They were illegally exported to Switzerland before 1991 when an Iranian dealer attempted to sell them to the British Museum. They were too obviously looted even for the BM, and the dealer was unable to unload them to anyone else either. The bricks stayed in a warehouse in Chiasso, just over the Swiss-Italian border, until 2008 when the contents of the facility were seized due to nonpayment of the storage bill. The Swiss authorities confiscated the bricks and Tehran’s National Museum formally requested their return. Iran’s Cultural Heritage Ministry subsequently filed suit and it has taken more than a decade for it to finally come to fruition.

The Mannaeans occupied large parts of what are now the Iranian provinces of Kurdistan, East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan between around the 10th and 7th centuries B.C. The small polity was neighbored by the powerful empires of Assyria and Urartu and would ultimately be fragmented in the conflicts between the two great powers. Qalaichi was occupied between 9th and 7th centuries. It was abandoned after the Mannaean kingdom was conquered by the Medes in 615 B.C. and disappeared as a culturally distinct group.

It seemed to disappear from the archaeological record too. The first breakthrough took place in 1936 with the discovery of the Mannaean site at Ziwiye in Kurdistan. The Mannaean settlement at Qalaichi first emerged by accident in the 1970s when a farmer ploughing his fields churned up a decorated brick. Word got out and the looters descended like locusts with bulldozers, taking advantage of the upheaval of the Iranian Revolution and Iran-Iraq War to viciously plunder the site from 1979 until archaeologists were finally sent in 1985 on an emergency salvage mission.

The archaeological team unearthed numerous glazed bricks and a broken stele with a 13-line inscription in Aramaic that is the tail end of a treaty. It’s mostly a very detailed curse against anyone who would dare remove the stele (eg,”May seven cows suckle a single calf, but let it not be sated”), but it conveys that of the two parties to the treaty, one, the Mannaean side, supported by Haldi, god of war and patron deity of the Urartian royal dynasty, and an unknown second party, supported by Hadad, god of storm. It also states the Mannaean name for Qalaichi: Z’TR.

Unfortunately that one dig would be all the professional archaeology the site would get for another 15 years. The war made the area too hot and the looters came back to violate Qalaichi’s patrimony uninterrupted until a second official excavation took place in 1999. The filthy products of all this devastation were sold on the international antiquities market with plenty of takers among private collectors and museums. Mannaean material remains are exceedingly rare and every piece counts in shedding light on its culture. The homecoming of 51 of the bricks stolen during the long periods of destructive looting thus takes on even more importance.

The Repatriated Boukan Glazed Brick Collection from Switzerland exhibition will open at the Haghighi Museum in Boukan and then move to the Iran National Museum in Tehran as soon as COVID allows.

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Copper Age amber burial found in Karelia

Thursday, August 26th, 2021

Archaeologists have discovered a unique Copper Age burial containing 140 pieces of amber jewelry on the shores of Lake Onega in the Republic of Karelia, northwestern Russia. The grave dates to around 3400 B.C., and no other burials from this period have been found in Karelia or its neighboring regions in northwestern Russia containing anything close to this much amber.

A team from Petrozavodsk State University (PetrSU) made the find while surveying sites of prehistoric settlements on the western shore of the lake. The grave is a narrow oval pit that was covered in red ochre paint for ritual reasons. Inside the grave an assortment of pendants, buttons and discs made of Baltic amber were unearthed. Some of these types are so rare they were only known from single discoveries in the Eastern Baltic before now, and those were found in ancient settlements, not in a funerary context.

Along the edges of the burial pit, amber ornaments were deposited thickly in two tiers. In the center, they were face down in rows. They had originally been stitched to a leather cape draped over the body. When the leather rotted away, the amber pieces remained in place.

Small flint chips flaked off in the production of tools were placed on the body. Archaeologists believe the lithic deposits were meant to symbolize weapons like arrowheads and knives. There is no local source of flint in Karelia and the amber was also non-local, coming from the Eastern Baltic region, so these materials in the grave can only have been acquired through trade networks.

No other graves have been found at the site, which is another way in which this burial is unique.

Since the Mesolithic era, in the forest belt of Europe, ancient people buried the dead in ancestral cemeteries. The burial with rich grave goods found in the vicinity of Petrozavodsk is a single one. In addition, some of the discovered amber jewelry found in the grave had not been found in Eastern Europe before. It is possible that a trader from the Eastern Baltic States was buried in the grave, who arrived on the western shore of Lake Onega to acquire (in exchange for amber) slate chopping tools. Workshops for the production of slate axes and adzes are currently being investigated by the university expedition just next to the burial site.

The burial discovered by the PetrSU expedition testifies to the formation of the so-called “prestigious” primitive economy among primitive people living in Northern Europe, in which jewelry and especially valuable tools were made to maintain the high social status of their owners. Various jewelry and other prestigious items accumulated by some noble hunters are currently found by archaeologists usually in burials.

The “amber” burial discovered by the expedition of Petrozavodsk University testifies to the strong ties of the ancient population of Karelia with the tribes that lived on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea.

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Iron Age warrior wearing spurs found in Sweden

Wednesday, August 25th, 2021

The grave of an Iron Age warrior buried with his sword by his side on spurs on his heels has been unearthed in Buttle on the Swedish island of Gotland. Preliminary osteological analysis indicates the deceased was male, and stratigraphy suggests he lived between the 4th and 6th century. Warrior graves with weapons from this period are very rare finds in Sweden.

Excavations at the site began in 2019 but the first season turned up little of note. Last year’s excavations were suspended. This dig season saw the return of archaeologists and students from Uppsala University’s Gotland campus and they were welcomed back by the rare discovery of the warrior burial.

The bones were found during excavation of a stone circle of limestone blocks. As the soil was carefully removed from the skeleton in situ, spurs emerged at his feet. When the team removed the soil from his midsection, they found a sword. The team wrapped the soil block around the sword in plaster to remove it without risk of damage to the fragile organic elements and oxidizing metal.

The sword is 80 cm (31.5 inches) long and is bronze with bronze fittings. Parts of the sheath have also survived, namely wood framing at the top and bottom of the blade. An acorn-shaped bronze finial was found on the tip. It is similar in style to ones made on the continent at that time and Germanic fighters, including ones from Scandinavia, are known to have served in the Roman army. It is possible, therefore, that this warrior may have fought for Rome himself or had sufficient dealings with the Empire to acquire the weapon.

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Vermeer’s Cupid returns

Tuesday, August 24th, 2021

A painting of Cupid hidden behind a layer of grey has reemerged on the wall behind The Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window by Johannes Vermeer. After more than three centuries of grey overpaint and four years of meticulous restoration, the Girl, now backed up by Cupid, will be the centerpiece of a new exhibition dedicated to Vermeer at the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden.

Painted ca. 1659, it was bought by Augustus III of Poland, Elector of Saxony, from the prized art collection of Victor Amadeus I of Savoy, 3rd Prince of Carignano, in Paris in 1742. It became part of what is now the Dresden Gemäldegalerie. It was misattributed to Rembrandt at the time, a recognition of its quality even as the master who produced it was largely forgotten outside of the Netherlands. It wasn’t correctly attributed to Vermeer until 1859.

We know from correspondence about the purchase that the wall was already Cupidless when the painting arrived in Dresden. X-rays revealed the presence of the Cupid in 1979, but researchers at the time believed the figure had been overpainted by Vermeer himself. When a new comprehensive restoration began in 2017, conservators removing the old yellowed varnish layer discovered that the paint in the central part of the wall had markedly different solubility properties than the rest of the paint. This spurred further investigation of the paint layers which revealed that the presence of a dirt layer and binding agent between Vermeer’s original paint and the overpaint that covered the Cupid. Several decades passed between the completion of the work and the overpainting. That means it was not Vermeer’s choice to eliminate the Cupid painting towering behind the young woman as she reads her (love?) letter.

In the light of the discovery that the overpaint was not done by Vermeer, a commission of experts decided to remove the overpaint in early 2018. The ultrathin layer of paint had to be removed under magnification using a small scalpel. No other method would preserve the last varnish layer applied by Vermeer’s hand. This painstaking scalpel technique was slow going, but as of earlier this year, Cupid is back.

The composition is notably different. The Cupid painting is large, covering most of the empty space on the grey wall and providing a new dark background for the young lady’s golden hair. Cupid himself is about half the height of the girl. He holds his bow on his left side and arrows aloft in his right hand. Two masks are on the ground at his feet. They represent true love’s disdain of falsehood in favor of truth and loyalty.

Vermeer used the trope of the Cupid painting-within-a-painting four times that we know of, including in Lady Standing at a Virginal , which has been loaned to Dresden by London’s National Gallery for the new exhibition.

Along with nine other paintings by Vermeer, including the “Woman in Blue Reading a Letter” (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum) and the “Lady Standing at a Virginal” (London, National Gallery), which are closely related to the painting, some 50 works of Dutch genre painting from the second half of the 17th century will be on display. Paintings by Pieter de Hooch, Frans van Mieris, Gerard Ter Borch, Gabriel Metsu, Gerard Dou, Emanuel de Witte and Jan Steen will show the artistic environment in which Vermeer worked and with which he was in close contact. Selected examples from other artistic genres, such as drawings and prints, sculptures and historical furniture will further enrich the exhibition. A segment of the exhibition will be specifically devoted to Vermeer’s painting technique and the restoration of the “Girl Reading a Letter” in order to illustrate the complex, experimental process used in creating the painting.

Johannes Vermeer. On Reflection opens September 10, 2021, and runs through January 2, 2022.

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It’s a Bronze Age hoard bonanza!

Monday, August 23rd, 2021

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s pair of hoards comes news that four Late Bronze Age metal hoards have been unearthed near Gannat in central France. There are hundreds of bronze artifacts in these hoards, so many that the site contains by far the largest grouping of Bronze Age metal objects ever discovered in France. In fact, it is one of the richest Bronze Age metal deposit sites ever discovered in Europe.

The first known hoard at the site was plundered in 2017 by looters so unfortunately the precise location of the find is unknown and cannot be archaeologically investigated. It is now in the collection of the Anne de Beaujeu Museum in Moulins. To prevent the site’s utter despoliation by treasure hunters, an official archaeological excavation began in 2019 and has been ongoing since then.

The team discovered the remains of an unusually large fortified settlement dating to around 800 B.C., the end of the Bronze Age. The 30-hectare settlement was defended by a double row of ramparts, probably a wooden palisade with earthenware ditch, and dry stone walls estimated to have been 20 feet high.

Archaeologists found the first legally excavated hoards in 2020. The two large metal deposits were perfectly intact, which is extremely rare with hoards from this time period. They were still contained inside decorated pottery vessels. To preserve the contents and pots, the hoards were removed en bloc, CT scanned and then excavated in laboratory conditions.

Each vessel held dozens of bronze pieces, almost all of them whole and unbroken. There are weapons — axes, knives, daggers, spear tips — jewelry — bracelets, pendants, belt buckles — and fittings from chariots and horse harnesses. The objects were carefully arranged in the same way in both hoards. The jewelry was together at the bottom of the vase. A layer of sharp objects (sickles and gouges in one, swords/knives/spears in the other) was placed on top of the jewelry. The axe blades were placed above them head down. One intriguing element has never been found before in a Bronze Age hoard context: river pebbles, specifically chosen for their color. One of the hoards contained white pebbles, the other red.

Just this month, the team unearthed two more intact metal hoards. One was inside a ceramic pot topped with a plate. The other has no container. It is a deposit of ax blades in a pit, but they are placed in the exact same way as the axes were in the 2020 finds, head down, tail up.

Although fragile after 2,800 years, the bronze objects are in an exceptional state of preservation. “The axes, in particular, were little or not used,” underlines Pierre-Yves Milcent, which illustrates the paleomonetary role which they played, since, as in the Gallic time, elaborate systems of exchange of values ​​already existed in the Bronze Age. Ax blades were used as units of exchange. This point clearly illustrates that the intention of those who buried these precious objects was to sacrifice value to gods, in order to obtain their help during personal or collective crises, but also during social rites. For example inaugurating a building, a site, etc., adds Pierre-Yves Milcent, who remarks: “Sacrificing values ​​in the earth is a European habit, which continued during the Iron Age – the Gallic period – but which has in fact existed since the Campaniforme at least.”

The discovery of such a rich vein of Bronze Age metal deposits still in situ and intact gives archaeologists a unique opportunity to study Bronze Age Europe’s practice of voluntary, organized burial of metal valuables in places where there are neither graves nor temples to explain the offerings.

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Two Bronze Age hoards found by accident in western Poland

Sunday, August 22nd, 2021

Two Bronze Age hoards have been discovered in western Poland in the past six months. The first was discovered on January 12th by a man and his son taking a walk in their hometown of Bogdaniec. They spotted a bronze bracelet poking out of the soil on a slope and notified regional authorities. The subsequent archaeological inspection of the site revealed a rich deposit of bronze objects from the Lusatian culture (1300 – 400 B.C.).

Found inside a broken vessel, the hoard consists of 220 bronze artifacts, among them six bracelets, five necklaces, round plates, a myriad rings and assorted mounts that are believed to have been part of a horse harness. The variety and quantity of the objects makes this a find of great archaeological significance.

The second hoard was found 30 miles to the south of Bogdaniec by a farmer clearing rocks from his field in Sulęcin County on July 27th. He encountered the grouping of bronze objects just below the agricultural layer so they had never been exposed or damaged in previous field work. He wisely left the objects alone, secured the find site and informed the county conservation services the next day.

Archaeologists recovered three scepters, three bronze dagger points, a chisel, a hatchet and smaller associated metal objects from the Únětice culture which flourished in what are now Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany and Poland between 2300 and 1800 B.C. Úněticean hoards, often found in funerary contexts, are characterized by metal objects, including axes, ingots, daggers, bracelets and spirals. Very rarely do Únětice hoards contain more than one dagger and one scepter, so this find is unique.

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