Neolithic seal with bull heads found in Turkey

Stamp seal with stylized bull heads and impression. Photo courtesy Halil Tekin.A unique seal incised with stylized bull heads facing each other has been unearthed at the Domuztepe Mound, a Late Neolithic settlement in southeast Turkey. The button-shaped stamp seal features two animal heads mirroring each other on the surface of an oval serpentine stone. Around the edge is a border of radiating straight lines.

Domuztepe is the largest known settlement of the Halaf culture, a farming society that occupied northern Mesopotamia and Syria between around 6100 B.C. and 5100 B.C. They are renown for the unusually high quality of pottery they produced from local clay. Their painted polychrome ceramics were so highly prized they spread throughout the region, likely traded by the elites. The pots were decorated with finely-executed geometric or animal designs in brown, red and/or black (both iron oxide pigments) against a buff background.

The Halaf culture is responsible for the earliest known stamp seals on the archaeological record. Halaf seals were typically simple circles or rectangles incised with intersecting grid lines and chevrons. One example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is notable for having a zoomorphic shape believed to represent a hedgehog, but the surface design is still a simple grid with exes in each cell.

The newly-discovered seal employs a motif previously only found on pottery: the bull or buffalo head. The shape of the horns and head painted on the pottery is different from the design on the seal. It could be that one style is meant to represent domestic cattle and the other water buffalo, but they could also both be domestic bulls with two different, highly stylized designs.

[T]he bullheads visualized on different materials are mostly accepted as the representative of the species known as domestic cattle (Bos Taurus) in the Near East. On the other hand, it is possible that the species in the samples shaped both as a paint decoration on pottery and by scraping on seal impressions is a water buffalo (bos bubalis). Since archaeozoological studies have not been completed yet, it is premature to say that water buffalo was domesticated in the Eastern Mediterranean, where Domuztepe is located, in the 7th-6th millennium BC.

Largest phallus relief found in Córdoba

A bas relief of a hefty phallus more than a foot and a half long has been discovered on the wall of a Roman-era structure at the archaeological site of El Higuerón in Nueva Carteya, a town 30 miles southeast of Córdoba, Spain. The symbol, which Romans believed warded off the evil eye, was carved into the front of a massive limestone cornerstone at the base of a tower-like structure. Its impressive endowment makes it one of the largest phalluses known from the Roman world — certainly the largest one measured and documented — which is saying a lot because the Roman world was bristling with phalluses.

Excavations were first carried out at El Higuerón between 1966 and 1968, revealing a walled Iberian town dating to the 5th century B.C. The Iberian settlement was destroyed by the Romans when they defeated Carthage and conquered the area at the conclusion of the Second Punic War in 206 B.C. They built a tall tower-like structure on top of the ruins.

The latest excavation began this month. The team’s goal is to clean the perimeter wall, which is the oldest remnant of the Iberian city, and to excavate the large tower building.

The team of archaeologists refer to the structure at El Higuerón as a “monumental Roman building” with perimeter walls six feet thick (1.8 meters) made of large limestone blocks. Underground storerooms for agricultural products have been discovered, along with various construction materials like fragments of stucco, Roman concrete (opus caementicium), black and white blocks, tiles and storage containers with lids. This year, the archaeologists are focused on excavating an access point through one of the facades to the tower, in addition to cleaning the perimeter wall, “which is one of the more massive features of the site,” according to [Director of the Historical Museum of Nueva Carteya Andrés] Roldán.

The building was abandoned by the Romans during the first century Flavian dynasty, and later renovated by the Moors during their Iberian reign. The Moors eliminated parts of the structure that that were not useful, such as the underground storerooms, and reinforced weak areas like the access door. When the Christians drove out the Moors in the 13th century, the building was abandoned and forgotten until it was rediscovered in the 1960s.

In less than a month of excavations, archaeologists cleared the ancient wall thoroughly enough to reach the Iberian-era foundations. They also unearthed a lime floor inside the tower, a cobblestone floor just outside the tower and evidence of repeated alterations to the access point of the building from the original Roman door to the medieval one that is still extant today.

The site has been known since its rediscovery, but a smattering of walls amidst hills of olive trees did not draw much attention, positive or negative. Now that there’s a giant phallus in the picture, the curious, careless and greedy have come calling. Now the local police and Guarda Civil have had to secure the site, especially at night, to keep the archaeological remains safe.

The municipality of Nueva Carteya has acquired the land to ensure the long-term protection of the structure and its contexts. The ultimate aim is to create an open-air archaeological park accompanied by an on-site museum to display the artifacts recovered there.

New fibula types found in prehistoric graves in Bosnia

An archaeological excavation of the Kopilo burial ground in central Bosnia has discovered new forms of jewelry in several Bronze Age graves.

Kopilo is a hilltop settlement about 40 miles west of Sarajevo that was founded around 1300 B.C. It was a farming community on a plateau 2000 feet above sea level and was occupied continuously for a thousand years. Skeletons of pigs, cattle and goats have been found indicating livestock breeding. The pre-Illyrian Bronze and Iron Age culture that settled the site was known for its network of fortified hilltop settlements and metallurgic skill, but its funerary practices were little known. The Kopilo site has been excavated since 2019, but until 2021, only two tombs had been found.

The settlement’s necropolis was finally discovered in 2021. This year the entire burial ground has been systematically excavated and documented. The tombs were built of stone surrounded by an outer ring of stone. Each contained two to five burials. The necropolis was in continuous use from the 11th to the 5th century B.C. Archaeologists have unearthed 46 graves containing the remains of 53 individuals. They were buried on their sides in the crouch burial position with legs and arms slightly bent. A small vessel was often buried at the head of the deceased. Early examinations of the osteological remains show a disproportionate number of young children indicating a high child mortality rate. Grave goods include pottery, bronze jewelry, glass beads and iron weapons.

The jewelry includes bronze fibulae in never-before-seen shapes. In addition to the new forms of jewelry now introduced for the first time, archaeologists also found some of the earliest worked iron objects in Bosnia, proving iron metallurgy was active at the site as early as the 9th-8th century B.C.

Burials include both cremations and inhumations, which is very unusual in Bronze Age Europe. There is also evidence that the bones were moved over time, likely when graves were reopened for later inhumations as there were a number of double and even triple burials.

The skeletal remains will be subjected to staple isotope analysis and ancient DNA analysis to determine any kinship relationships between the dead, where they were born and raised, what they ate and what diseases they suffered.

Bones of saint king of Hungary identified in ossuary jumble

Archaeologists have identified the bones of Saint Ladislaus, 11th century King of Hungary, amidst a jumble of bones from more than 900 individuals, stored in an ossuary in Székesfehérvár, central Hungary. This makes him the only known saint to have relics that are scientifically confirmed as his osteological remains.

Now on the grounds of an early 20th century architectural fantasy dubbed Bory Castle, the ossuary was connected to the city’s basilica whose remains are open to castle visitors as the Medieval Ruin Garden. The basilica was the heart of the capital of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary. Thirty-seven kings were crowned there and 15 of them buried there. The crown jewels of Hungary were kept there. The Holy Crown of Hungary was kept there. The literal throne of Hungary was kept there. The cathedral was pillaged by invading Ottoman forces in 1543 and the royal graves plundered. Only the tombs of King Béla III (r. 1172-1196) and his first queen consort, Anna of Antioch, were left undisturbed.

Researchers from the University of Szeged extracted DNA samples for 400 bone remains and compared them to DNA they had previously recovered from the remains of King Béla III. The DNA testing matched the bones of Saint King Ladislaus to those of his descendant from five generations later.

King Ladislaus I ruled Hungary from 1077 until his death in 1095. He was a warrior king, stabilizing a country riven by religious and political conflict in the wake of King Stephen I’s attempt to Christianize the kingdom in the beginning of the 11th century. He finished the job Stephen had started, forcibly suppressing traditional religious practices and firmly establishing Christianity as the sole religion of the realm. When he conquered Croatia, he did the same there.

A supporter of the Papacy in the Investiture Conflict between Pope and Holy Roman Emperor, the King founded monasteries and churches, and directed the establishment and operation of bishoprics in all of his territories. He was getting ready to go on crusade when he died. For his efforts in spreading Christianity both at sword-point and as an effective administrator, he was canonized by Pope Celestine III in 1192. Because he was born and raised in Krakow after his father, King Bela I, was forced by a rebellion to flee Hungary, Ladislaus would become the patron saint of Poles living in Hungary.

The DNA study of the ossuary remains also revealed the bones of Andrew II of Hungary, son of Béla III and Anna of Antioch. They plan to identify even more Hungarian royals using a DNA sample from John Corvinus (1473-1504), natural son of King Matthias (1443-1490) and his mistress, and from the skull of Mary of Hungary, Queen of Naples (ca. 1257-1323).

The ultimate goal is to recover the bones of royal family members and rebury them in marked graves. A secondary goal is to make facial reconstructions of the kings of Hungary. All of the skulls recovered from the ossuary have been scanned for that purpose. Combined with DNA information on hair/eye color, the reconstructed faces will then be made available to view through VR devices.

Hiker finds Viking brooch from woman’s burial

A hiker camping in the Scandinavian Mountains of central Sweden discovered a Viking brooch from what is likely the first female burial from the Viking Age ever found in the Swedish mountains. Eskil Nyström was setting up his tent at a spot above the tree line last year when he found something sticking out of the soil. It was so clotted with earth at first he thought it was a mine, but when he removed the dirt around it he saw it was non-explosive artifact. A year passed before he brought it to the Jamtli regional museum in Östersund where experts identified it as a disc brooch from the 9th century.

Jamtli archaeologist Anders Hansson followed up right away and inspected the find site. There were no markers above ground, no stone cairns or burial mound, to pinpoint a grave. The metal detector signalled strongly, however, so Hansson dug a small hole. Just an inch below the surface, he found soot, burned bones and one more brooch.

These are the remains of a cremation burial from the Viking Age, and the two large brooches indicate it was a woman’s grave. She had been placed over a cold fire pit and covered with a thin layer of soil. Her body was cremated, leaving behind fragments of charred bone and the fibulae that pinned her garment at each shoulder.

“You get the feeling that these people were on their way somewhere when the woman died. The burial took place here, where the woman took her last breath. They could have taken the woman home where they lived, but instead, they make a cremation pit on the mountain,” Hansson told TT.

Hansson says the female Viking tomb is richly equipped.

“It’s really pretty. It is completely socially and religiously correct. The Viking woman took all her most precious objects to the grave, but there are no monuments, burial mounds, or cairns. It’s just flat hill. This grave is thus different compared to Viking graves in Iron Age settlements,” Hansson explained

Only five other Viking burials have been found in the mountains, all of them men. The find site of the woman’s grave is on a pilgrim’s path so even though it was a serious hike above the tree line, there was a religious incentive that might have spurred a woman of high status to sport two large, intricate fibulae while huffing and puffing up a mountain.

The grave will be thoroughly excavated next summer.