Archive for January, 2022

Bronze Age sword with rivets found in Slovakia

Tuesday, January 25th, 2022

A Bronze short sword has been discovered in the bed of the River Váh near the town of Hlohovec in the southwestern Slovak Republic. The blade is 26 cm (10 inches) long and weighs 150 grams (5.3 oz) and had a handle made of organic material (probably wood) which has not survived. The rivets that once joined the handle to the sword are still in place, however. It dates to the 16th century B.C.

It was discovered by a local resident last summer when it was exposed by a sharp drop in the water level. At first he just thought it was a cool object and took it home. He soon realized it was an archaeological find and had it examined by an archaeologist at the local museum who confirmed its ancient age and reported it to the Trnava Office of the Monuments Board of the Slovak Republic.

These types of short-bladed swords or long-bladed daggers are typical of the Tumulus culture of the Middle Bronze Age in the Danube basin. They have been found in tombs, hoards and in rivers and other bodies of water, where they were deliberate depositions made for ritual purposes.

At the end of the Early Bronze Age the first metal swords began to appear in Central Europe, as a separate invention that most likely evolved from long bronze daggers. The sword from the Váh could serve as a very interesting developmental link between these two types of weapons, [Matúš] Sládok [of the the Trnava Office] argued.

The Monuments Board of the Slovak Republic is fairly new, established in 2002. In the twenty years since, four Bronze Age blades like this one have been found in the Váh and reported to the Trnava Office.

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Henry III gold penny sells for $873,000

Monday, January 24th, 2022

An extremely rare 13th century gold penny of 20 pence minted by King Henry III discovered last September by a metal detectorist has sold at auction for £648,000 ($873,000), far exceeding the pre-sale estimate of £400,000 ($546,000). It is one of just eight documented examples of the gold penny, four of them in museums.

The coin was found in a field in the village of Hemyock in Devon by Michael Leigh-Mallory, a metal detector aficionado who had just returning to the hobby after stopping for a few years when his children were born. He reported his find to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, but he didn’t realize how important the coin was until he posted a picture on Facebook and it was recognized by numismatist Gregory Edmund of auctioneers Spink & Son.

The penny depicts the crowned and enthroned king holding a scepter and globe on the obverse. It is inscribed “H / ENRIC / REX III” . The reverse features a long voided cross with five-petal rosettes and three pellets in each field between the cross arms. It is inscribed “WIL / LEM / ON L / UND,” referencing the name of the moneyer Willem of Gloucester (also known as Willem Fitz Otto) and the London mint where the coins were struck in 1257.

Henry III’s penny was the first gold coin issued by a king of England since Edward the Confessor (1042-66). Edward’s gold coins were more like medallions, however, intended for use as presentation gifts. Henry’s gold penny was an actual circulation coin valued at 20 pence.

About 52,000 gold pennies were minted, but they did not get much use because they were widely believed to be undervalued, that the gold weight alone was worth more than the struck coin. They were soon withdrawn from circulation and a decade later Henry bought back the coins for 24 pence each and melted them down. No more gold coins would be minted in England for circulation until 1344 in the reign of Edward III.

The winning bidder is a UK private collector who has chosen to remain anonymous. The good news is he plans to loan the coin permanently to a museum.

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Youngest Roman amphitheater found in Switzerland

Sunday, January 23rd, 2022

Construction of a new boathouse on the Rhine in Kaiseraugst, outside Basel, Switzerland, has revealed the remains of a previously unknown Roman amphitheater that is the youngest that has ever been found in the Empire. Aaargau Canton archaeologists started excavating the site last month expecting to encounter material remains from a quarry that was abandoned in Roman times. They were surprised to find an oval ring of walls instead.

The walls encircle a hollow of the abandoned quarry and are about 165 feet long and 130 feet wide. A large entrance gate flanked on each side by smaller entrances was unearthed on the south side. A sandstone block from the threshold of another gate was found on the west side. Some of the walls have surviving plaster on the interior. Of the wooden bleachers only the impression of wooden posts they were built on remain.

The structure was adjacent to the Castrum Rauracense, the military fort built near the city of Augusta Raurica in around 300 A.D. when the Roman army had to redraw its defensive lines after the loss of Upper Raetian Limes in the Germanic invasions at the end of the 3rd century. The location next to the fort, the use of the abandoned quarry and the building materials use all point to the amphitheater having been constructed in the 4th century, which makes it the youngest known.

The good folks of the Basel Rowing Club will benefit greatly from this find. The plans for the boathouse have been redesigned to include the amphitheater’s remains. They will be left in situ, protected by a barriers while the new building is erected above them creating the coolest boathouse of all time.

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Oldest brewed tea leaves found in royal tomb

Saturday, January 22nd, 2022

The remains of tea leaves discovered in a royal tomb in Zoucheng, eastern China’s Shandong province, have been dated to 453-410 B.C., the early Warring States Period, making them the oldest known brewed tea in the world. The previous title-holders, discovered in 2005 in the tomb Emperor Jing of Han, are 300 years younger.

The leaves were found in an overturned porcelain cup during the 2018 excavation of tomb No. 1 at Xigang in the Ancient Capital City Site of the Zhu Kingdom in Zoucheng City. Archaeologists suspected at the time of the find that the charred remains of plant matter in the cup were tea. That was confirmed when scientific analyses — among them calcium phytoliths analysis, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and gas chromatograph mass spectrometry — compared the ancient matter to modern tea and steeped tea residue.

Their results show that the sample contains abundant calcium phytoliths identifiable as tea and that its FTIR spectra are similar with that of the modern tea residue.

They also detected caffeine, methoxybenzene compounds, organic acids, and several other compounds in both the ancient sample and the modern tea residue.

The Shennong Ben Cao Jing, the earliest surviving Chinese medical treatise written between 200 B.C. and 220 A.D., records a legend that tea was discovered as an antidote to poison by Emperor Shen Nung in 2737 B.C., and references in agricultural almanacs from the Warring States Period refer to tea being used in religious sacrifices.

“Since ancient times, the Chinese people have always had the habit of drinking tea, but there is no physical evidence to prove when tea actually appeared, until the discovery of tea in the Han Yangling Mausoleum, which proved that Chinese tea has a history of at least 2,150 years, which has earned recognition from Guinness World Records as the oldest tea in 2016,” the scientists said.

“The identification of the tea remains in Zoucheng — the early stage of Warring States, approximately 2,400 years ago — has advanced the origin of tea by nearly 300 years.”

“Furthermore, the tea was found in a small bowl, providing additional evidence of the usage of tea.”

“Our results indicate that tea drinking culture may start as early as in Warring State period.”

The study has been published in the journal Scientific Reports and can be read in its entirety here.

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Pristine Roman blue glass bowl found in Nijmegen

Friday, January 21st, 2022

Archaeologists excavating the site of a comprehensive housing and green space development in Nijmegen’s Winkelsteeg area have unearthed a spectacular Roman blue glass bowl that is in flawless condition. It is at least 1,800 years old, and there is not a chip or crack on it.

Such dishes were made by allowing molten glass to cool and harden over a mold. The stripe pattern was drawn in when the glass mixture was still liquid. Metal oxide causes the blue color.

This bowl was once a showpiece for early Nijmegen residents. [Lead archaeologist Pepijn] Van de Geer thinks it is a masterpiece that deserves to be displayed in a museum. “I have seen similar glassware in Italian museums.”

Nijmegen was founded as a Roman military camp in the 1st century B.C., and a civilian settlement of the local Batavi peoples formed next to it. By 98, the settlement of Nijmegen was the first city in what is today the Netherlands to receive the designation of municipium (Roman city rights) making its residents Roman citizens.

The bowl was not of local manufacture. It was produced in a workshop of fine glasswares in a large Roman city. The Roman city of Vetera (modern-day Xanten), just over the border in Germania, was known for its glass production, and it too was in Batavi territory so there would have been established lines for the exchange of goods. It is of such high quality, however, that it could well have originated in Italy and been traded north, or have been acquired by a Batavian legionary who brought it home with him when he retired from the Roman army.

The Winkelsteeg excavation has also unearthed graves from the Roman settlement and a smattering of grave goods, including vessels, cups and jewelry. Remains of dwellings are sparse — mostly traces of wood construction — but archaeologists are documenting residues and soil discoloration to draw up a map of the neighborhood’s houses.

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Roman statue of Venus found in Croatia

Thursday, January 20th, 2022

Archaeologists have discovered a Roman nude female statue believed to be of the goddess Venus at the site of future hotel construction in Zadar, Croatia. It is incomplete; a section three feet high from the knees to waist survives out of what was likely a larger-than-life-sized statue more than six feet high. Preliminary analysis indicates it dates to the 2nd century.

The right knee is bent and the leg slightly forward. Fragments of a hand are on the left thigh, and there are fragmentary traces near the groin and waist as well. Archaeologists believe there was likely a second figure in the group, perhaps the god Mercury. The pose of the legs and the hand on the thigh are similar to a headless and armless statue of Venus that is now in the Split Archaeological Museum. That Venus Victrix with Erote was unearthed in the 18th century in the ruins of the palace of Emperor Diocletian in Solin, ancient Salona which was the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia and Diocletian’s birthplace as well as his retirement home.

Zadar, 100 miles north of Salona, was also a prosperous city under the Roman Empire. The statue was found six feet below the surface in the remains of an urban villa, an elegant home with luxury features that would have belonged to one of the wealthy residents of Zadar. The Venus statue was probably one of several that decorated the atrium of the villa.

The excavation thus far has revealed a marble slab floor of about 850 square feet. It extends past the excavation area on three sides, so it could be much larger. Archaeologists also unearthed a wall lines with grey marble tile and a surviving section of mosaic floor about 40 square feet in area. The mosaic is geometric, with two black stripes against a field of white tesserae.

They also found a hole in the floor with a broken marble surround that led to drainage canal 36 feet long. The drainage canal contained a number of pottery fragments and even more tubules, hollow ceramic bricks used as heating pipes in the walls of Roman villas.

The location of the villa and the details of the mosaic coincided with the results of research by Professor Boris Ilakovac 60 years ago. Before constructing the neighboring building of Božidar Rašica, he researched the foundations of buildings demolished during and after the Second World War.

Professor Ilakovac found two villas in a row there; they touched each other’s outer walls and had an identical mosaic decoration in the atrium. All this tells us that here, a hundred meters from the ancient Forum, several representative residential buildings were later, possibly in the early Middle Ages, demolished and only now being revealed in their full beauty.

The statue of Venus has been transported to the Homeland Museum in Biograd where it will be conserved and studied in detail.

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Bejeweled woman buried with child found in Siberia

Wednesday, January 19th, 2022

The skeletal remains of a richly adorned woman and a young child have been discovered in a burial mound in the Chinge-Tey archaeological site of Siberia. Grave goods found include gold earrings, an iron knife, an engraved wooden comb connected by a leather loop to a bronze mirror and a rare gold pectoral piece in a crescent shape. The burial dates to the 6th century B.C. when the valley was occupied by the Scythian Alda-Bielsko culture.

The mound is no longer a mound today, damaged to the point of being almost leveled, and was only detected thanks to aerial laser scanning that spotted the circular structure more than 80 feet in diameter. Archaeologists excavated the former mound and discovered a wooden burial chamber in the center. The heavy, elaborate chamber was built on a framework of interlocking beams with a wooden floorboards and topped with three layers of beams to form a roof. The skeletons of a woman aged around 50 years old and a child two or three years old were inside the chamber.

The Chinge-Tey site is in the Turano-Ujukska Valley which has been ycleped the “Siberian Valley of the Kings” because of the proliferation of large burial mounds packed with rich grave goods that have been discovered there.

“A particularly interesting monument was the golden pectoral, a crescent or moon-shaped ornament hanging at the neck” – noted in an interview with PAP the head of the Polish part of the expedition, Dr. Łukasz Oleszczak from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. He emphasized that such objects, known from burial mounds in southern Siberia, have so far been found almost exclusively in men’s graves.

“They were considered a symbol of belonging to some social group, caste, perhaps warriors – men at least. Placing him in a woman’s grave is a very interesting departure from this custom. It certainly proves the unique role of the deceased in the community of inhabitants of the Valley of the Kings” — believes the archaeologist.

At the same time, he pointed out that the woman was buried in the central part of the tomb located in the immediate vicinity of the great mound belonging to – as researchers believe – the prince of nomads. “It seems that, like the other dead buried in this mound, she belonged to the princely retinue,” said Oleszczak.

There are traces of even more grave goods, bronze objects buried around the mound. A few pieces have been found — a bronze ice ax, animal-shaped figurines — using a metal detector, but archaeologists believe there were many more than were scattered during agricultural work at the site in the 20th century.

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No sale for the half billion Caravaggio villa

Tuesday, January 18th, 2022

Villa Aurora, the 16th century mansion in Rome that contains the only ceiling painting ever created by Caravaggio, failed to sell at auction today. With an estimated value of €471 million ($534 million) and despite the valuation of the Caravaggio painting alone at  €310 million ($351 million), not a single bid was made. The auction had been scheduled to run for 24 hours, but without even one offer to open the festivities, the auction was immediately shut down and rescheduled for April 7th.

Named after a much larger ceiling painting in the house (a depiction of the Roman goddess of the dawn, Aurora) by another Old Master Guercino, the villa was built as a hunting lodge for Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte, Caravaggio’s early patron. It is right off the Via Veneto today, one of the most prestigious addresses in Rome now, but when it was built on the former Gardens of Sallust bounded by the ancient Aurelian wall, it was basically the countryside. It has been in the Ludovisi family since the 1620s, and was the sole part of the once huge Ludovisi estate that the family kept after selling the rest of it off in the late 19th century.

Even the person selling it, the Texas-born widow of the Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi, had to be forced to do so in an inheritance dispute with her late husband’s sons from his first marriage. The prince’s will granted his wife Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi 50% ownership of the villa and the right to live there until her death. The Ludovisi sons disagreed on both points and contested the will. After years of legal wrangling and liens, the court ordered in September 2020 that the villa be sold to resolve the issue.

The price was set by the court based on the valuation of an expert appraiser who pointed out that the heritage value of the villa is incalculable. More than 38,000 people signed a petition asking the Italian government to buy the property using EU funds, but even if they were inclined to spend half a billion on a villa, there’s no legal mechanism for that until an offer is made. Once an offer to purchase is lodged, Italy has the right of first refusal and can snipe the sale for the offering price.

The base price is expected to drop 20% to €376.8 million euros ($427 million) when the villa goes back under the hammer in April.

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14th c. painted burial vault raised

Monday, January 17th, 2022

One of the 14th century painted burial vaults discovered last year under the street in front of the Church of Our Lady in Bruges, Belgium, has been lifted whole and moved to a new location for conservation and eventual display. Similar vaults found before in Bruges were filled with lightweight clay aggregates to preserve the interior wall paintings and reburied for their own protection, but the most recent discoveries have to be moved due to the planned construction of a new pumping station on the street where they were found.

Raising a 700-year-old masonry vault presents numerous  logistical challenges. They were built to order, as it were, hastily constructed so that a body could be buried within 24 hours of death. The lime plaster coating the interior was painted when still wet and quickly sealed. Past attempts to raise burial vaults have failed and damaged the priceless paintings, so the City of Bruges created a multi-disciplinary committee of scientists, archaeologists and specialist conservators to coordinate the removal of the best-preserved vault first.

The wall paintings were fixed using Japanese rice paper to prevent plaster loss. While conservators were working on the interior, the exterior base was reinforced with a new poured concrete slab to make it possible to lift the entire vault even in cold, wet and windy weather without the bottom falling out of it.

The vault is now inside the Church of Our Lady where it will be meticulously conserved. The restoration process begins with a controlled drying period. It is a Goldilocks situation. The temperature and humidity levels must be strictly maintained to ensure the tomb doesn’t dry too quickly (because the paint will flake off the contracting walls) or too slowly (because mold will form).

It will be conserved in public view, pandemic permitting, in the church museum where it will go on permanent display when the restoration is complete.

Here’s a time-lapse video of conservators working on the vault before it was raised.

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Peacock mosaic found in early Christian basilica

Sunday, January 16th, 2022

A 6th century mosaic floor featuring peacocks and an Greek inscription has been discovered in Arsuz, a town in Hatay Province, southern Turkey. The floor was part of the Church of the Holy Apostles, a Byzantine-era basilica, and was commissioned by a freed slave who thanked God for his manumission in the inscription.

The remains of the Church of the Holy Apostles first emerged in 2007 when landowner Mehmet Keleş was planting saplings in his orange grove. Subsequent excavations revealed a three-aisled basilica church with mosaic floors, stone graves and human remains. A mosaic inscription identified the site as an ancient church dedicated to the apostles. There is evidence it was in use through the 12th century.

Located on the Gulf Issus 70 miles from the great city of Antioch, Arsuz was founded during the Hellenistic era and by the 1st century B.C. when it was annexed by Rome, it was an important port city on the Mediterranean coast of what is today Turkey. It became a regionally significant religious center in late antiquity, the seat of a bishopric and home to a monastery founded in the mountains outside the city by the ascetic hermit Theodosius of Antioch.

The mosaic with peacocks and the inscription were discovered in the most recent dig season and the excavation is ongoing. Eventually, the Hatay regional government plans to build a roof over the remains and open it to visitors as an open-air museum.

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