New tombs found in Neolithic necropolis of Pully

New tombs have been discovered in the famed Neolithic necropolis in Pully, near Lausanne on Lake Geneva. Archaeological investigations preceding utilities work on the Chemin de Verney unearthed eight cist tombs made of sandstone slabs in an area of about 110 square feet.

Pully’s Chemin de Chamblandes necropolis was first professionally excavated by Swiss archaeologist Albert Naef between 1901 and 1910. In use between 4300 and 3900 B.C., the necropolis is the largest group of Neolithic burials ever found in Switzerland. It is the type site for the cist tombs found throughout the Alpine arc in the Middle Neolithic. This style of tomb is now known as Chamblandes type after the Pully necropolis.

Chamblandes type tombs are rectangular stone boxes formed from four vertical slabs with a fifth slab on top of them. The deceased were laid to rest on their sides with their knees drawn up to their chests. Some of the graves include more than one burial. About 75 Chamblandes tombs containing the remains of about 100 individuals have been found since excavations began.

The newly-discovered tombs were found at a comparatively shallow depth and their cover slabs are in poor condition, broken into many fragments. Two of the graves were found intact. The other six were damaged in recent city works. Only three of the tombs still contain skeletal remains, all three of them cranial elements. Archaeologists suspect some of the smaller cists may have been graves of children whose fragile bones have decomposed. The only grave goods found are some lignite beads.

The last discoveries in this district of Pully date back to 1984. These new burials offer a rare opportunity to complete the plan of the necropolis, which is still difficult to define given the absence of recent extensive excavations on this site.

The graves that are not endangered by the planned construction have been left in situ and covered for their protection.

Wari human sacrifices found in Lambayeque temple

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of 29 individuals, including three children and an adolescent, in the Huaca Santa Rosa de Pucalá archaeological site in the Lambayeque region of northwestern Peru. The four young people were sacrificial offerings, buried in front of the temple when the Wari-era enclosure was built between 800 and 900 A.D. These are the first human sacrifice victims from the Wari culture that have been discovered in Lambayeque.

Huaca Santa Rosa de Pucalá was an important ceremonial complex, used and altered over the centuries by the Cupisnique, Mochica, Wari and Lambayeque cultures who occupied the area. The Wari temple with its characteristic D-shaped enclosure was discovered in late 2019. Follow-up excavations were derailed by the pandemic for almost two years. Archaeologists returned to work the first of September.

Only the burials of the children and adolescent are from the Wari period. The other 25 individuals were interred in graves of pressed clay and in burial chambers in a temple from the Mochica culture. Archaeologists also found a pitcher decorated with Mochica imagery, a bottle in Early Sicán or Proto-Lambayeque style and a tumi, an Andean knife with a blade in the shape of a half moon. Remains of camelids and eight guinea pigs sacrificed for ritual purposes were unearthed as well.

The excavation has also revealed that there was a temple on the site dating back to the late Formative Period (900-200 B.C.). Built with mud brick walls with clay maces embedded inside, the construction is different from any other temple found before in Lambayeque. The upper storey of the temple had elaborate floors and ceilings made of vegetal material. There is evidence that objects were burned here, likely in ceremonial contexts.

These discoveries rewrite the cultural history of Lambayeque. The Wari center of power was the Ayacucho area in the central Andes, so their construction of a temple so far out of their stomping grounds is evidence they had a wider sphere of influence than previously realized. The Formative Period temple was built by people with local and mountain links, indicating coastal communities interacted with mountain communities between 400 and 200 B.C.

Tiepolo drawing of gnocchi clowns found in attic

A drawing by Rococo master Giovanni Battista Tiepolo has been rediscovered in the attic of Weston Hall, the Northamptonshire seat of the literary Sitwell family. The pen, ink and wash drawing depicts a group of Punchinelli, a buffoonish commedia dell’arte stock character that Tiepolo drew repeatedly from the late 1720s through the early 1760s. This is an earlier example, dating to the early 1730s, and is one of the largest, most populated and most detailed of the three dozen or so Tiepolo Punchinello drawings.

Tiepolo, in contrast to his son Domenico, who shows Punchinelli engaged in everyday activities in his Divertimento per li Regazzi, portrays his Punchinelli making and eating gnocchi, and suffering from the excesses of overindulgence. The subject derives from a regional festival, “venerdì gnoccolare”, which took place in Verona on the last Friday of Carnival.

George Knox, the Tiepolo art historian, suggests that this drawing is among the earliest of the Punchinello drawings because of its fine line and delicate, even use of wash. He further proposes that this drawing may be linked stylistically with the studies for the Villa Loschi at Biron, executed around 1734. The present drawing, and others of this period, undoubtedly mark the moment that Tiepolo’s draftsmanship assumes its mature form.

The drawing was acquired by Sir Osbert Sitwell at a Christie’s auction of the famous collection of Old Master drawings of the late London banker and art collector Henry Oppenheimer in July 1936. For some inexplicable reason, the drawing wound up forgotten in one of Weston Hall’s attics. It was only rediscovered last year when Henrietta Sitwell, Osbert’s grand-niece, found it leaning against the attic wall and peeled back the bubble wrap it was swaddled in to find a surprise Old Master.

The Tiepolo drawing will go under the hammer at Dreweatts auction house with the other contents of Weston Hall at a two-day sale on November 16th and 17th. It has been conservatively estimated to sell between £150,000-£250,000 ($207,000-344,000), but a comparable piece sold at auction in New York in 2013 for $542,500, so even the high end of the range is something of a low-ball figure.

Gallic diatretic glass vase reveals a waxy, fragrant secret

The exceptionally rare diatretic glass vase discovered in a paleochristian necropolis in Autun, central France, last year has been pieced together by conservators, and it’s even rarer than it first appeared to be.

The vase was discovered inside a massive sandstone sarcophagus, one of six found in the necropolis, at the feet of the deceased individual. The necropolis was in use between the early 3rd and the middle of the 5th century, and the glass vase dates to the 4th century.

It is made of a reticulated glassware, an elaborate ornamental style featuring interlacing lines of glass in relief. Just 4.7 inches high and 6.3 inches in diameter, the vase is one of only 10 complete examples of Roman reticulated glass known to survive, and the only example ever found in France. It also unique for its inscription: the phrase VIVAS FELICITER (live in happiness) written in large deep relief letters.

While it was complete, and large enough pieces survived to make the inscription legible to the naked eye immediately upon discovery, the vase was broken into numerous fragments. The complex restoration was performed by experts at the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum in Mainz, Germany. Solving the puzzle took five months of work.

The restoration revealed an egg-and-dart band between the rim and the inscription. The base is decorated with a complex filigree featuring eight heart-shaped ovals that form a circular rosette. It also revealed a separator character, a v-shaped pointed arch crossed at the apex and incised with horizontal ribs, at the end of the inscription.

The letters are in excellent condition, although it seems the letter C was added in a later repair. The glass in the replacement C has the same chemical composition as the other letters, so it was made at the time the vase was made, but it has a matte finish that is different from the rest of the inscription. Something must have happened during the letter’s production that required it to be remade. The unsuitable C was melted back down and now has a slightly altered look and texture.

It was composition analysis that exposed the vase’s most surprising secret. Impregnation analyses found a mixture of plant and flower oils were used in the recipe, as was ambergris. Known as whale vomit, ambergris is a waxy substance formed in the intestinal tract of sperm wales that is found very rarely, almost always on beaches, and sells for astronomical sums. Today it is used as a fixative in perfumes, and ancient Egyptians are believed to have burned it like incense, but there are no references to it in classical Greek and Roman sources.

The first European scholar to write about ambergris is believed to have been Byzantine Greek physician Aëtius of Amida. The first important Christian writer on medicine, he mentioned ambergris in his great compilation of Greek medical knowledge written in the late 5th and early 6th centuries. Aëtius included it as an ingredient in spikenard, an expensive perfume referenced repeatedly in the Bible and held to have medicinal properties. As the oil Mary, sister of Lazarus, poured on Jesus’ feet and wiped with her hair (John 12:3), in Christian Europe spikenard was used in the church.

The ambergris found in the diatretic glass vessel is the oldest example of its use on the archaeological record.

Restored grape harvest mosaic goes on display

A mosaic from late antiquity depicting a donkey carrying a basket full of grapes while a vineyard worker leads him by the bridle will be going on display in Antakya, Turkey, for the first time nearly 20 years after it was excavated.

The mosaic was first discovered in 2002 after looting activity in the Mazmanlı Quarter of Hassa district, 50 miles northeast of Antakya. A rescue excavation revealed the full 64 square feet of the mosaic which had originally adorned the floor of a church dating to the 5th or 6th century. It was moved to the Hatay Archeology Museum‘s warehouse in 2016. Since this summer, a team of six conservators have been working to remove the protective plaster it was encased with when it was lifted, reattaching loose tesserae and stitching the entire mosaic together from the sections it was divided into during the recovery process.

The mosaic’s iconography attests to the importance of viticulture in the Amik Valley in the Late Roman Period, but the history of grape and wine production in what is now the Hatay Province of Turkey goes back even further than that and continues through to this day. The museum hoped to have the mosaic on display to bring in the Grape Harvest Festival on September 6th, but restoration took a full a six months.

Fashionably late, the mosaic is now scheduled to make its dramatic debut next month in the temporary exhibition hall of the Hatay Archeology Museum. The Mosaic of the Vine Harvest will go on display with the replica of a Late Roman Period mosaic depicting the harvest of the other agricultural product of the area with just as ancient a tradition of cultivation: olives.

“Our mosaic comes to the fore every year during the grape harvest in our Hassa. Based on this, we wanted to introduce it to the visitors. As part of our project ‘The Traces of Olives and Grapes Engraved in History Come to Light,’ the importance of olives in the Hatay region and their spread to Anatolia and Europe as well as the importance of grapes for our province will be explained in our temporary exhibition hall,” [museum director Ayşe] Ersoy added.