Early medieval silver figurine found in Poland

Archaeologists excavating the site of an early medieval hillfort in Chodlik, eastern Poland, have unearthed an unusual silver anthropomorphic figurine among other artifacts that shed new light on the settlement’s history.

Chodlik, 30 miles west of the city of Lublin, is one of the most archaeologically rich areas in the Lublin Voivodeship. It was site of a heavily fortified stronghold built and occupied by the Slavs between the 8th and the 10th century. It was the largest stronghold of the period in Poland, and its location at the junction of the major east-west and north-south roads made it an epicenter of settlement in the region.

The site has been excavated off and on for 60 years, revealing burials mounds, remains of fortifications and the largest early medieval granary ever found in Europe. The last two seasons focused on an area that geophysical surveys indicated might contain man-made structures. Archaeologists have unearthed hundreds of fragments from clay vessels and weapons including arrowheads and spears. Decorative objects, including a lunula (a pendant shaped like the crescent moon), were among the artifacts uncovered.

A two-inch-high silver figurine was the stand-out find, discovered less than eight inches beneath the surface at the early medieval archaeological layer. The figure has clasped hands crossing its chest and clearly-defined feet. Facial features have been lost from wear and tear. It’s possible the figurine once held an object, now worn away, in its hands. Researchers are looking for comparable objects in an attempt to identify the figurine, but thus far have come up empty handed.

The discovered fragments of ceramic vessels come from the 8th-10th centuries, which confirmed the earlier findings of archaeologists regarding the centuries of the defensive foundation. Their great number means, according to [Polish Academy of Sciences archaeologist Dr. Łukasz] Miechowicz that the place was teeming with life. In turn, the military was discovered at the base of the outer rampart.

“These monuments may be traces of military actions. The Chodel Basin is a very strongly fortified settlement microregion – there are 4 very close castles, additional fortifications in the form of a longitudinal embankment, and two important trade routes intersected here. It was certainly a rich place and a tasty morsel” — said the scientist.

This year, archaeologists also found two early medieval denarii at the base of the embankment in Chodlik. According to experts, they come from the beginning of the 11th century. Until now, researchers believed that the stronghold ceased to exist in the 10th century. and Podgórze. “The new finds of coins give impetus to research on the chronology of the hillfort in Chodlik and its possible shift to the 11th century, here we also count on the results of absolute dating using the radiocarbon method,” Miechowicz added. Until now, it was believed that the stronghold in Chodlik ceased to exist when the Piast state was established. The reason for its end, however, remains a mystery to this day. Perhaps a natural disaster, perhaps an armed invasion, contributed to this.

Gas pipe workers find 800-year-old burial bundles

Last week, workers installing new gas pipes in the town of Chilca, 40 miles south of Lima, Peru, discovered a group of funerary bundles containing human remains and offerings that dates to the 13th century. The natural gas company Cálidda contracted archaeologists to excavate the find. They found the remains of eight individuals, adults and children, wrapped with vegetable ropes and brown cloth.

Placed around the bundled bodies were offerings of different types of corn in a bowl made from gourds, decorated textiles and musical instruments, including a double-row panpipe and a traditional Peruvian flute. There were shells on the heads of some of the bodies.

Inside some of the bundles archaeologists found hand spindles, used to spin cotton, camelid or sheep’s wool into the richly colored and patterned textiles that have been characteristic of Andean culture for millennia. They also found chuspas, pouches used to carry coca leaves and the alkaline substances (lime in this case) they were chewed with to increase the practice’s effectiveness against altitude sickness, in some of the bundles.

The bundles were placed inside a chamber dug into the sand, then topped with wood logs and mats of plant fiber hardened with mud. Archaeologists believe the burials were part of a pre-Hispanic cemetery in Chilca, as bodies have been found during utility work before, most recently in 2018 when Cálidda workers discovered the ancient remains of 30 individuals.

The human remains and archaeological materials will be entrusted to experts at Peru’s Ministry of Culture, who will assess their conservation needs and determine where they will be exhibited in the future.

Roman gold coins found off coast of Spain

A group of 53 Roman gold coins have been discovered on the seabed off the coast of Xàbia in Alicante, southeastern Spain. They are gold solidi ranging in date from the late 4th to the early 5th century, and are in such excellent condition that all the coins but one could be identified. There are three solidi from the reign of Emperor Valentinian I, seven from  Valentinian II, 15 from Theodosius I, 17 from Arcadius and 10 from Honorius.

The coins were discovered on the sea bottom next to Portitxol island, a popular destination for sport divers because of the rich marine life that inhabits its seaweed meadows of its rocky bed. Even so, it managed to hide dozens of Roman gold coins for 1,500 years until freedivers Luis Lens and César Gimeno spotted eight flashes of light on the seafloor. At first they thought they were modern ten cent pieces, or maybe mother-of-pearl shells gleaming in the water. They picked up two of them.

When they returned to the boat, they saw that they were ancient gold coins bearing identical profiles of a Roman emperor. They immediately alerted city officials to their discovery and led marine archaeologists to the find site. Over several dives, the team of archaeologists recovered the 53 gold coins, three copper nails and fragments of lead that may have been fittings on a chest.

This is one of the largest sets of Roman gold coins found in Spain and Europe, as stated by  Professor in Ancient History Jaime Molina and University of Alicante team leader of the underwater archaeologists working on the wreck. He also reported that this is an exceptional archaeological and historical find, since it can offer a multitude of new information to understand the final phase of the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The historians point to the possibility that the coins may have been intentionally hidden, in a context of looting such as those perpetrated by the Alans in the area at that time.

Therefore, the find would serve to illustrate a historical moment of extreme insecurity with the violent arrival of the barbarian peoples (Suevi, Vandals and Alans) in Hispania and the final end of the Roman Empire in the Iberian Peninsula from 409 A.D.

The coins are now being conserved and studied before going on display at the Soler Blasco Archaeological and Ethnographic Museum in Xàbia, conditioned on the acquisition of an armored glass case equipped with sensors to secure the valuable (and easily meltable) artifacts. Funding has already been secured to return to the find site for a more thorough excavation.

‘Cake mummy’ survived WWII bombing of Lübeck

A hazelnut cake complete with swirls of frosting carbonized in the bombing of Lübeck in 1942 has been discovered in a cellar in the city’s historic old town. No food preserved in the firestorm of the bombing has been discovered before in Lübeck. Nor are there any comparable survivors from Hamburg or Dresden, two other German cities that were famously devastated by Allied firebombing.

City archaeologists unearthed the cake in April during an excavation under a house on the Alfstrasse, a street that leads from the Trave river to Lübeck’s iconic 13th century St. Mary’s Church. Built in 1159, barely 15 years after the city’s founding, Alfstrasse is one of the oldest streets in the Lübeck located in the very heart of the city’s founding district.

Lübeck was bombed by the Royal Air Force the night of March 28-29th, 1942, and the fires that resulted destroyed large parts of its medieval city center. St. Mary’s was all but levelled (it was reconstructed after the war), as was the merchants’ quarter. The house on Alfstrasse was destroyed in the bombing, but by a miraculous cake-preserving fluke, a cavity formed under the rubble that insulated the dessert from annihilation in the fires or from being crushed in the house’s collapse.

“From the point of view of a restorer, it is the most exciting object that I have ever worked on,” says [conservator Sylvia] Morgenstern. “I first have to wait for the laboratory analyzes. Only then can I decide whether I can clean the find with water and which substance is suitable for stabilization,” she says.

But just like the question of preserving the cake, the archaeologists are concerned with the story behind it. In addition to the charred cake, a coffee service and several records were also found. “Possibly the pastry was intended for a confirmation ceremony. It used to take place on Palm Sunday,” said Schneider. “We hope that we can clarify this with the help of the city archives at some point.” […]

“The cake find is so special because it goes back to an event – namely the bombing raid on Lübeck – that is still present in the minds of the city,” says Doris Mührenberg, who is in charge of the Lübeck Archeology magazine. This is where the “cake mummy” will later find its place – if it is possible to preserve it permanently.

Painted 14th c. burial vaults found in Bruges

Excavations at the Church of Our Lady in the heart of historic Bruges, Belgium, have unearthed three medieval burial vaults, two of them with painted interior walls. Archaeologists have been excavating the former Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerkhof cemetery under the Mariastraat, the street in front of the church, since mid-May to recover remains and artifacts before construction of an underground pumping station. Within days the skeletal remains of about 50 individuals were uncovered along with coffin nails from the simple wooden boxes, now decomposed, in which they were interred.

The first two masonry vaults were discovered less than a week into the excavation. One of them was richly decorated with painted murals on the interior walls. Both long sides of the rectangular vault feature angels swinging censers so vigorously they’re horizontal. The short end at the head of the fault is a scene of Calvary — Jesus crucified with his mother Mary standing to his right and the apostle John on his left. Copious blood pours from the nail holes in his hands and feet and from the gaping spear wound in his side. At the foot end is a Sedes sapientiae, Mary enthroned with her arm around the child Jesus by her side. The main figural pieces on all four walls are sprinkled throughout with red flowers and red crosses bottony (a square cross with skinny arms that terminate in trefoils). Based on the painting style, the tomb has been dated to the late 14th century.

The third burial vault was unearthed last week. Its painted interior walls are very similar in style and motif, with angels wielding censers on the long sides peppered with florals and crosses. The short side at the head also features a scene of the Crucifixion, Jesus on the cross flanked by Mary and John, while a Sedes sapientiae decorates the opposite short wall. This tomb also dates to the 14th century, but is likely a little younger than the previous find.

When these vaults were built, they were rush jobs. At that time, bodies had to be buried within 24 hours of death, so bricklayers, masons, plasterers and painters had to make and decorate a vault with a quickness. Because the lime plaster never had the time to dry, the murals painted on the inside were basically frescoes, although not a deliberate choice so much as the exigencies of the situation. The condition of the paint can therefore be challenging. The murals in the first vault discovered are better conserved than the second.

To ensure the best possible preservation of the painted burial vaults, archaeologists called in specialist conservators to clean and stabilize the artworks as quickly as possible so they can be thoroughly photographed and documented. The crypts were then covered back up carefully to prevent damage from the elements. They will remain covered as long as they’re in situ. When the excavation is complete, the vaults will be lifted in their entirety and removed for conservation and study.

A 3D model of the first painted vault has already been completed (see below). A model of the second is in the works. This will allow people to see the vaults and conservators to assess their immediate condition needs without risking any damage to the delicate surfaces.