Musket ball holes may rewrite English Civil War history

Archaeologists have discovered the ruins of a late medieval gatehouse riddled with holes from musket and pistol shots that may be evidence of the first clash in the English Civil War, one that does not appear on the historical record.

The site in Coleshill, Warwickshire, is being excavated because it is on the route of the new HS2 high-speed rail line. It’s pasture land now, but a medieval manor house, Coleshill Hall, once stood there. It was built in the 14th century and expanded in around 1600 with a grand formal garden, the remains of which were discovered by the HS2 team last year.

The gatehouse was still standing in 1628 — it was recorded in an inventory of the house — but was demolished by the end of the 17th century to make way for a new manor house. The excavation revealed the remains of the gatehouse ground level. Made of massive sandstone blocks, the gate featured a monumental building flanked by two massive octagonal towers. The manor house was encircled by a defensive moat. A drawbridge in the gatehouse opened to allow authorized people access over the moat.

The front gatehouse walls are pockmarked with 200 holes from a barrage of shots. More than 40 musket balls were recovered from the former moat around the gatehouse.

The English Civil War began in August 1642. The conflict was between the Royalists who were loyal to King Charles I, and Parliamentarians, known as the Roundheads. The first recorded battle of the Civil War, the Battle of Curdworth Bridge, took place in 1642, and was only a short distance from Coleshill Manor.

The Manor was in the hands of Royalist Simon Digby as the Civil War approached, after the estate was transferred into his name following the execution of its previous owner, Simon De Montford, for Treason.

Coleshill Manor, next to a bridge over the River Cole, would have been a strategic position that the Roundheads would have wanted to control. Experts believe that the Roundheads would have passed close to the Manor on their way to battle. It is entirely plausible that a skirmish took place on the way to Curdworth Bridge, especially given the Manor’s strong Royalist connection. Historical records of the Civil War are confined to famous major battles, so details of the exact events will never be known, but these marks exposed as part of HS2’s archaeology programme provide a rare glimpse into the impact of war on the lives of those not recorded in the history books.

Soil block grave from oldest burial ground in Germany excavated

A whole grave recovered from the oldest burial ground in Germany has been excavated almost four years after it was removed in a soil block. Radiocarbon analysis of the remains dates the burial ground to approximately 8,000 years ago in the Mesolithic era, just on the cusp of the Neolithic Revolution that saw the arrival of the first farmers in Brandenburg.

The presence of ancient human burials on a vineyard in the village of Groß-Fredenwalde, northern Brandenburg, was first revealed in 1962 during construction of a radio tower. While some bones were unearthed at that time, there was no systematic archaeological exploration of the site until the 2000s. Subsequent excavations uncovered 12 individual burials, including the oldest infant burial in Germany and one man who had been buried standing up in a vertical pit that was exposed to the elements and animal scavengers for a while before being filled. The graves bear the tell-tale reddish tint from a stone that was typically buried with the dead in Mesolithic Brandenburg. The dozen individuals found there make this burial ground not just the oldest in Germany, but the largest Mesolithic burial ground in the country.

The graves did suffer some damage from the agricultural use of the site, so archaeologists removed the fragile burials en bloc for later examination at the University of Applied Sciences in Berlin. COVID delayed the laboratory excavation, so the last of the soil block burials is only now being revealed.

This individual was five feet tall and in their early 20s. They were buried in a tight crouching position, legs bent at the knee. The sex has not yet been determined, and osteological examination found no indicators of illness or cause of death. The bones are in excellent condition, giving archaeologists a rare opportunity to deploy the full gamut of analytical technologies on prehistoric human remains, including DNA extraction and strontium isotope analysis. The genetic analysis of other individuals in the burial ground indicates the deceased were natives of Central Europe. They had dark skin and blue eyes. Isotope analysis found they subsisted largely on a diet of fish.

This burial ground is one of the most important archaeological sites in Germany, not just because of its age, but also because of its location on the boundary between two distinct societies that inhabited Brandenburg in the Mesolithic. The indigenous people of the Uckermark area were hunter-foragers who were born, lived and died there. The first Neolithic farmers, on the other hand, were immigrants who moved to the area from southern Europe. The Groß-Fredenwalde captures this transition in community population and identity from local hunter-foragers to immigrant farmers. Archaeologists hope to reach a new understanding of Mesolithic society and its overlap with the advent of farming by studying the remains in the burial ground — their kinship groups, what they ate, their health, social organization, etc.

Roman wood writing tablet with ink found in Sens

Dozens of ancient wells and latrines rich in preserved organic remains have been unearthed in Sens, north-central France. They date to between the 1st and 3rd century A.D. and contain an abundance of ceramics, leather, wood, as well as botanical and faunal remains. One extremely rare find is a wooden writing tablet with visible traces of ink lettering.

Last May, a team of archaeologists from France’s National Institute for Preventative Archaeological Research (INRAP) excavated a previously unexplored district at the southern edge of the ancient city in advance of housing development construction. The waterlogged soil in the archaeological layers posed logistical challenges for the excavation, but it is also the reason so many organic materials and hollow structures survived until they could be excavated.

In total, 15 wells were discovered, intact with the original wooden casings at the bottom. The wooden casings from an astonishing 24 ancient latrines were also unearthed. This is an unprecedented concentration of latrines, suggesting they had a wider use than your garden variety outhouse facilities. Perhaps they were used for an industrial application like tanning? Both the wells and the latrines held discarded materials, mostly ceramic fragments, but also pieces of pewter vessels and an intriguing group of counterfeit coin blanks that were discarded before they could be illegally minted.

Originally a fortified settlement of the Senones Gauls, the Roman city of Sens was built in the 1st century B.C. Its location at the intersection of two rivers, the Vanne and the Yonne, and two major Roman roads made it an important city in the later Roman Empire. It was a provincial administrative center in the late 4th century, and transitioned into an important archbishopric in the Early Medieval and Carolingian eras.

Winged Victory of Brescia returns to Capitoline Temple

The ancient bronze statue of a Winged Victory that has become a symbol of the city of Brescia in Lombardy, northern Italy, has returned to its original home, the city’s 1st century Capitoline Temple. It has been installed in the eastern cell of the Capitolium in a new layout that incorporates the iconic bronze (and several of its brethren) into its monumental surroundings.

Brescia’s earliest antecedents go back to 1,200 B.C. with a settlement of the ancient Italic Ligures. In the 7th century, Celtic Cenomani crossed the Alps and made the town in the foothills their capital. Unlike neighboring tribes, the Cenomani were allies of Rome and consistently sided with them against all enemies foreign (Carthage) and domestic (the Insubres). When the Insubres and other Gallic peoples in northern Italy joined together to march on Rome in 225 B.C., the Cenomani fought with the Roman Republic and its central Italian allies against their Celtic kindred.

It maintained its allegiance in the Social Wars of the 1st century B.C. when the Italic peoples rebelled against Rome. In reward, Brescia, then known as Brixia, was given civitas (“city”) status in 89 B.C. and 50 years later, its residents were granted full Roman citizenship by Julius Caesar. To celebrate the granting of Latin Rights, a sanctuary was built on the city’s main thoroughfare. Four large rectangular halls, each with its own entrance via a pronaos (columned portico) were built and decorated with vivid frescoes and inlaid wall. The exquisite workmanship is characteristic of high-end craftsmen from central Italy. Brixia wanted only the best to show off its official acceptance into Rome’s legal and cultural fold.

The Republican shrine lasted less than a century. Brixia supported Vespasian when he vied for the throne during the Year of Four Emperors (69 A.D.), and after he was victorious he had a new temple to the Capitoline Triad (Jupiter, Juno, Minerva) constructed over the Republican shrine. The bronze Winged Victory dates to this reconstruction.

She was beloved by the people of Brixia and we know this because they removed her and concealed her for her safety, likely in the late 4th or early 5th century. Eastern Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379-395) had taken decisive action to suppress paganism and many temples were destroyed in the process. Then came the invasions. Alaric devastated Brixia in 402. Atilla’s Huns sacked it even harder 50 years later. Somewhere in all this devastation, the people of Brixia collected its greatest bronze treasures — Winged Victory, six imperial portrait busts, at least three of them gilded, an incredible rare horse breastplate from an equestrian statue — and a pile of bronze frames, rings and fragments and stashed them in a cavity between the western wall of the temple and Cidneo Hill behind it.

The gods must have been looking out for their devotional art, because the treasure was submerged by a landslide that also covered the temple itself. The bronzes were kept safe under that landslide layer for centuries. They were rediscovered in 1826 in an excavation of the forum and Capitoline area. It was one of the largest and most significant collections of Roman bronzes ever found, and Winged Victory in particular captured the romantic imagination as a symbol of Italian patriotism in Brescia, then part of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, an Austrian vassal state established at the Congress of Vienna after the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815.

The bronzes find a permanent home in 1998 when the Santa Giulia Museum opened. In 2019, a new restoration of the Winged Victory was undertaken. Using the latest metal composition analysis, researchers discovered just how special she was. Originally experts believed the wings were added during the Vespasian era of construction to what had been a Hellenistic statue of Aphrodite, but the composition of the bronze confirmed that in fact all of the metal, wings, body and head, came from the same foundry at the same time. She was always a Winged Victory.

On Sunday the Santa Giulia Museum debuted its new Roman gallery, displaying its magnificent Roman cultural patrimony in a newly-designed, lit, accessible space that will give visitors a fresh understanding of ancient Brixia based on the latest research. The Winged Victory is now on display in the Capitolium next to the six portrait busts that were her roommates for 1500 years and with a second deposit of objects discovered in the excavation of the Capitoline Temple area.

Made of bronze using the technique of lost-wax casting and gilding only on the male ones, the portraits must have been inserted into stone or marble statues, as indicated by the careful finishing of the neck flaps. They were most likely displayed in a public space in the city and may have represented emperors or members of the imperial family. The features of the faces and hair allowed the figures to be identified with members of the Flavian dynasty and with emperors of the second and third centuries CE.

The other deposit, never shown in its entirety, includes a considerable amount of votive objects offered in the temple halls by worshippers during the life of this place of worship; these include rare engraved glass, such as the bottle with reproductions of views of cities of the Phlegraean area, jewelry, ritual objects, including the precious knife with a deer horn handle, simple and figured oil lamps, amphorae, large plates for ritual offerings, mold-decorated ceramics, and much more. […]

Other finds of particular value and interest include the bronze horse breastplate (balteo), a unique specimen throughout the empire, probably belonging to an equestrian statue displayed in one of the public spaces of ancient Brixia, on the surface of which numerous bronze figures have been applied, depicting Roman soldiers, with helmet and armor, and barbarians, with long hair, breeches and short cape, engaged in an access combat, and in the center stands out the figure of the emperor on horseback bursting among the soldiers.

Well-preserved wood found at Iron Age farm

Rare well-preserved wood artifacts from an Iron Age (800 B.C.- 43 A.D.) settlement have been discovered at the site of highway expansion in Bedfordshire, England. Archaeologists unearthed an intact wooden ladder and a panel of wattle while excavating the route of the planned A428 highway. The wooden objects date to the Late Iron Age, approximately 2,000 years ago.

Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) experts have been excavating a field near Tempsford where an ancient farm was in use from the Middle Iron Age (ca. 300-100 B.C.) through the late Roman period (200-400 A.D.). The pre-Roman occupation farm featured two large roundhouses. They are 15-20 meters (50-65 feet) in diameter, much larger than the typical roundhouse. Multiple loom weights were found inside the roundhouses, indicating fabric production took place at the site. Because so many weights were found, it’s possible fabric was being produced for trade to neighboring settlements.

Usually all that remains of roundhouses are postholes — the lacunae left in the soil after the wood rotted away. The postholes from this settlement are how archaeologists were able to estimate the size of the roundhouses. The posts themselves did not survive, but the anaerobic waterlogged soil of this boggy valley has kept some other wood elements from decomposing for two millennia.

The wooden ladder was found leaning against the side of a shallow well near one of the roundhouses. Archaeologists believe people descended the ladder to fetch water from the bottom of the well. It was left in the well, propped up in place, and was preserved thanks to being submerged in water and mud.

The well is also the source of the wattle panel. The panel is circular made of interwoven twigs and branches. It was used to line the wall of the shallow well to keep it from collapse. Wattle is the same material used to construct roundhouse walls. The woven panels would then be covered with daub, a coating material made of mud, clay and/or animal dung mixed crushed stone, straw and/or animal hair. Once applied to the wattle, the daub dried to form a firm wall.

The preserved wood artifacts have been recovered from the site and are now undergoing conservation. They are being kept wet to keep them from shrinking and will be dried out carefully in a laboratory in a way that prevents the cells of the wood from collapsing and shrinking and ensures the wood won’t rapidly decompose from exposure to air and microorganisms.

We can learn a lot from these wooden objects. As well as being able to see how people made and used them during their daily lives, finding out what type of wood they used will tell us about the trees which grew in the area. This can help us reconstruct how the landscape would have looked at the time, and how that landscape changed throughout history.

It isn’t just wood which can be preserved in these wet environments! We also find insects, seeds and pollen. These all help our environmental archaeologists build up a picture of how the landscape of Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire looked 2000 years ago. Looking at pollen and plants preserved in the water, they have already identified some of the plants which were growing nearby, including buttercups and rushes!