2,000-year-old makeup palette found in Aizanoi

An excavation of the ancient city of Aizanoi in western Turkey has unearthed the remains of a cosmetics and jewelry shop in the city’s marketplace. Archaeologists discovered the shop in the agora area east of the Temple of Zeus. The type of shop it was identified by the many perfume bottles, beads from decorated accessories (hair pins, necklaces) and makeup kits still containing brightly-colored eye shadow and blush, almost all of them in shades of red and pink.

“We know that ancient Romans stored their eyeshadows and blushes in oyster shells and we found numerous oyster shells in the shops we were carrying out excavations in,” [Professor Gökhan Coşkun, the head of the Archaeology Department at Dumlupınar University,] said.

The professor said that archaeologists discovered makeup products of 10 different colors and different sorts of hair accessories and jewelry.

First settled in the Bronze Age around 3,000 years ago, Aizanoi rose to prominence as a regional capital in the later Kingdom of Phrygia (ca. 1200-700 B.C.) It was part of the Kingdom of Pergamum that was bequeathed to Rome by the last Attalid king, Attalus III, in 133 B.C. It reached its peak of prosperity under the Roman Empire in the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. when great monumental public buildings — temples, baths, a unique combined theater and stadium, the macellum (market) — were erected.

Sunken temples of Aphrodite, Amun found off Egyptian coast

The remains of two temples, one dedicated to the Egyptian god Amun and the other to the Greek goddess Aphrodite, have been discovered in the sunken city of Thonis-Heracleion in the Bay of Aboukir, about 20 miles northeast of Alexandria.

The non-profit European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (IEASM) has been exploring the sunken city since its archaeologists first rediscovered the ruins four miles from the coast in 2000. Surveys of the site uncovered the bed of the former channel of the Canopic Nile, the walls of a temple and the naos of a temple of Amun. This gave archaeologists enough data to identify the city as the Heracleion referred to in the trilingual Ptolemaic-era stele known as the Decree of Canopus. A stele recovered from a shrine to Herakles also used the city’s Egyptian name: Thonis. These finds for the first time established conclusively that the city the Greek residents called Heracleion was called Thonis by the Egyptians.

Founded in the 6th century B.C., Thonis-Heracleion controlled access to the Canopic channel and was the main port of trade between Greece and late Pharaonic Egypt. All ships from Greece were required to stop there. In fact, at its peak it was the biggest port city on the Mediterranean Sea before it was eclipsed by Alexandria. Sixteen shipwrecks dating to between the 6th and 2nd centuries B.C. found at the site attest to the intense trade activity at the site in its heyday. Votive offerings made by merchants and sailors, many of them maritime in motif (miniature anchors, miniature vessels) have been found spread all over the seabed.

The remains of the temple of Amun and sanctuary of Aphrodite were discovered in the city’s south canal. They found massive stone blocks from the temple of Amun which were dislodged in the mid-2nd century B.C. when the temple was destroyed in a cataclysmic flood. Surviving wooden structures under the floor level of the temple have been radiocarbon dated back to the 5th century B.C. Pharaohs came to the Amun temple at Thonis to receive their formal titles and emblems of power. Gold jewelry, silver instruments, alabaster unguentaria and ritual objects including a gold wedjat eye amulet and a lapis lazuli Djed pillar in pristine condition were recovered from the temple treasury.

East of the Amun temple, a Greek sanctuary devoted to Aphrodite was discovered, which yielded imported bronze and ceramic objects. This illustrates that Greeks who were allowed to trade and settle in the city during the time of the Pharaohs of the Saïte dynasty (664 – 525 BC) had their sanctuaries to their own gods. The presence of Greek mercenaries is also seen by numerous finds of Greek weapons. They were defending the access to the Kingdom at the mouth of the Canopic Branch of the Nile. This branch was the largest and the best navigable one in antiquity.

Heracleion never recovered its former importance after the cataclysm of the 2nd century B.C., but it was still inhabited until the late 8th century. A series of earthquakes and rapidly rising sea levels subjected the city to tidal waves that liquified the coastal land. Finally more than 40 square miles of the Nile delta sank under the sea, taking the entire city of Thonis-Heracleion with them.

Numismatic masterpiece recovered in smuggling ring raid

A raid on an antiquities smuggling ring in the Paleo Faliro area of Athens has recovered one of the rarest and most prized gold coins in numismatic history: a 4th century B.C. gold stater of Pantikapaion. A team of police with the Department of Cultural Heritage and Antiquities of the Attica Security Directorate raided the Olympic taekwondo facilities at 9:30 AM on Saturday, September 16th, only minutes before a member of a criminal organization of Albanian origin known only as “Tzoni” was to meet there with the smuggler to buy the loot. The smugglers fled, leaving behind a total of 31 ancient artifacts to be confiscated by the police, including two marble lekythoi (narrow jugs), four clay skyphoi (two-handled wine cups) and clay figurines from the Archaic and Classical periods.

The gold stater was struck between 350 and 300 B.C. in the Greek colony of Pantikapaion on the Black Sea, modern-day Crimea. The obverse features the head of bearded satyr turned slightly to the left. His hair is long and disheveled and he has pointed horse’s ears. The reverse features a winged griffin with its horned head facing left and its right forepaw raised. It holds a spear in its mouth and stands over an ear of wheat. The high quality of the artistry and detail of the satyr’s head is what makes this coin so exceptional a survival from antiquity. It is considered the greatest portraiture on an ancient coin, conveying emotion and expression as well as physical features.

Before the EID MAR aureus that turned out to be looted sold at auction for $4.2 million, one of the Pantikapaion gold staters held the world record as the most expensive ancient coin when it sold in 2012 for $3.25 million ($3.8 million including buyer’s premium). Given that the EID MAR’s sale was cancelled and the coin returned to Greece from whence it was stolen, technically the 2012 stater has reclaimed the record. It was the only one known still in private hands and therefore the only one that even had a chance of being sold.

Well, this one is an even more beautiful example. It is heavier (9.2 grams vs. 9.1) and the head of the satyr is centered on the coin. The 2012 stater is slightly flattened at the top left so the satyr’s hair is a little cropped, as are the spear and horns of the griffin. It was assessed by an expert from the Numismatic Museum of Athens who valued it at a nose bleed-inducing 6 million euros ($6.4 million).

Of course it will not be sold. It more than qualifies as protected cultural patrimony under Greek law and is destined for a museum. Right now, all of the artifacts recovered in the raid have been handed over to the Archaeological Museum of Piraeus or to the Numismatic Museum of Athens where they will be studied further and kept safe in preparation for the prosecution of the criminal case.

Tiberian Palace reopens on the Palatine

More than 50 years after it was closed due to concerns over its structural integrity, the 1st century Tiberian Palace has reopened to visitors. Millions of tourists have looked up from the Roman Forum to admire the dramatic monumental brick arches on several levels on the slope of the Palatine, but they’ve had to be content to observe from afar as the massive structures were in danger of sliding down the hill.

The Domus Tiberiana was the first of the imperial palaces to be planned and constructed as a single comprehensive unit. The palace was built on the northwest corner of the Palatine Hill overlooking the Roman Forum and the Imperial Forum. The imperial residence was only one part of the complex which included gardens, baths, religious sanctuaries, restaurants, service buildings, barracks for the Praetorian Guards and a whole neighborhood of artisans and craftsmen dedicated to the construction and maintenance of the palace.

Although named after the emperor Tiberius (r. 14-37 A.D.), it was built by a later Julian-Claudian emperor. The earliest archaeological evidence suggests it was actually Nero who had it built in the aftermath of the great fire of 64 A.D. at the same time he was building his even more extravagant personal residence, the Domus Aurea. It underwent several phases of expansion and reconstruction, most notably under Domitian (81-96 A.D.) and Hadrian (117-138 A.D.). At its largest extent, it covered an area of four hectares.

After the end of the Western Empire, the palace remained in sporadic use, administered on behalf of the Byzantine emperor. It was still in such good condition that Pope John VII (r. 705-707 A.D.), whose father had been curator of the Palatine for Emperors Constantine IV and Justinian II, had it restored and used it as his residence. By the 10th century, however, the palace was in ruin and was pillaged for its stone, its prized marbles ground up to make lime. In the late 13th century, the ruins were used for burials.

The site was bought by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese in 1550 who filled in the monumental remains and built a splendid pleasure garden, the first private botanical gardens in Europe. He imported rare plants from all over the world and built a wonderland of aviaries, grottos, terraces and staircases rising from what had once been the Forum but for centuries had been grazing pasture for cattle. The cardinal also installed ancient statuary he’d discovered on his properties and acquired from impoverished Roman nobility. The Farnese Gardens became a must-see stop on the Grand Tour.

After the demise of the last Farnese of the male line in 1731, the family fortune was inherited by the Bourbon kings of Naples who helped themselves to all the statuary and let the villa and gardens fall into decay. What was left of the gardens was acquired by the newly-unified Italian state in 1870 and the focus shifted to excavating the ancient structures Cardinal Alessandro Farnese had built his terrestrial paradise on top of.

Excavations in the late 19th century uncovered a loggia composed of two rows of arches more than 50 feet high with a marble parapet and rich remains of frescoes and decorative stuccos on the ceiling of interior rooms. Archaeologists at the time attributed this structure to Caligula based on a comment in Suetonius that Caligula built a bridge between the Palatine and Capitoline, but in fact this loggia dates to the reconstruction of the palace under Domitian.

Since the site was closed in 1970, archaeologists have worked to stabilize and restore the palace. Excavations have revealed a more accurate timeline of the site and multidisciplinary studies have combined information from stratigraphy with the findings of the anthropological, faunal and paleobotanical research to shed new light on centuries of life at the Domus Tiberiana.

The reopened palace is accessed through the ramp of Domitian, the path trod by the emperor and his entourage to reach his private residence. A new permanent exhibition, Imago Imperi, displays artifacts illustrating the history of the palace in 13 rooms that open along the ramp. Statuary (including the looted head of Pan that was recently repatriated), coins, metal, glass, ceramics and more discovered in decades of excavations at the site showcase how the complex was used over the centuries. Among the notable new discoveries are three sanctuaries dedicated to different mystery cults (Dionysus, Isis and Mithras) and a fresco from the Augustan era that is the first known representation of a lemon in Italy.

World’s oldest wooden structure unearthed in Zambia

The well-preserved remains of a wooden structure that is no less than 476,000 years old, pre-dating the appearance of Homo sapiens by 100,000, have been discovered at Kalambo Falls in Zambia. Two logs were found in an interlocking position, joined by an intentionally cut notch. Early hominins whittled, shaped and stacked timbers into an unidentified structure that may have been a shelter, a raised track, a fishing platform or something else entirely.

Professor Larry Barham, from the University of Liverpool’s Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, who leads the “Deep Roots of Humanity” research project said, “This find has changed how I think about our early ancestors. Forget the label ‘Stone Age,’ look at what these people were doing: they made something new, and large, from wood. They used their intelligence, imagination, and skills to create something they’d never seen before, something that had never previously existed.”

“They transformed their surroundings to make life easier, even if it was only by making a platform to sit on by the river to do their daily chores. These folks were more like us than we thought.”

The Kalambo Falls site was first excavated in the 1950s, and while wood objects — including large ones that could have been part of a structure — were found in those early digs, their age could not be determined with the technology available at the time. Archaeologists returned to the site in the early 2000s to date the remains with modern techniques, and in 2019 they found several pieces of wood that showed signs of having been intentionally modified. There were whittled digging tools, a wedge-shaped block and one much larger find: a timber 4.6 feet long with tapered ends and a deeply-carved notch into which another large log was slotted perpendicular to the first like big, pre-modern human Lincoln Logs.

The wood was preserved for half a million years in the waterlogged sediments of the Kalambo River. Radiocarbon dating relies on the half-life of carbon-14 (5,730 years), so its effectiveness is limited to archaeological or paleontological materials that are less than 60,000 years old. The wood was carbon dated just to cover all bases, and the dates were infinite (ie, more than 50,000 years old). In order to date organic remains that turned out to be more than eight times older than C-14’s limit, researchers used two different types of luminescence analyses on 16 sand samples collected from deposits containing the wood. The results dated the samples to at least 476 ± 23 thousand years ago.

No hominin remains have been discovered at Kalambo Falls to identify which ancestors of modern humans made this wood structure. A Homo heidelbergensis skull dating to 300,000 years ago has been found at another site in Zambia, so that’s one possibility.

This extraordinary find has been published in the journal Nature and can be read here.