Intact double-chambered Etruscan tomb opened in Vulci

An intact double-chambered Etruscan tomb has been opened at the Casale dell’Osteria necropolis in the Archaeological Park of Vulci, central Italy. It is approximately 2,600 years old and contains a rich collection of pottery, amphorae, utensils, cups and a bronze cauldron. The objects are all in excellent condition, including a tablecloth that was used in the Etruscan religious ritual of the “last meal,” a food offering burned inside the tomb before it was sealed.

The tomb, dubbed Tomb 58, was first discovered in April of this year, the same time when another richly furnished Etruscan tomb was opened, revealing the exceptionally rare remains of the final food offering, skewers still on the brazier. The entrance was blocked by multiple slabs of tufa which had to be excavated carefully, one at a time. It wasn’t opened until this month. On October 27th, archaeologists opened Tomb 58.

They found a large tomb with two chambers dug into the soft volcanic tufa. The first chamber contained four Etruscan transport amphorae for local wine. The second chamber contained amphorae and ceramics from eastern Greece, Ionia, Corinth and local production including black bucchero pottery. Archaeologists believe the two amphorae in Chamber B came from the island of Chios, the most prized wine in the Greco-Roman world. A tripod bowl and iron objects were also found in Chamber B.

Also very important is the architectural layout, which “Appears to be characterized by a septum spared in the rock that creates an archway between the dromos, that is, the short corridor with steps, and the vestibule, from which there was access to the two chambers, the front and the left: the one, usual, on the right is missing, evidently because the space had already been occupied by other tombs.”

Simona Carosi, archaeologist in charge of the Archaeological and Nature Park, emphasizes how this find “gives us back in an unusual way the actual funerary banquet, as the Etruscans had laid it centuries and centuries ago.”

17th c. Nymphaeum of the Rain on the Palatine restored

The Nymphaeum of the Rain, a frescoed semi-subterranean leisure room in the Farnese Gardens on the Palatine in Rome, has been restored and reopened to the public after decades of closure. Now visitors will be able to enjoy the cultural context of Baroque Rome on the Palatine even as they enjoy the its ancient culture with the reopening of the Domus Tiberiana.

Built in the second half of the 16th century by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, the Farnese Gardens were the first private botanical gardens in Europe. The Nymphaeum of the Rain was built on the northern slope of the Palatine in the 1600s. was commissioned by Cardinal Odoardo Farnese as a “summer triclinium,” a refuge from the heat of summer in Rome to sup and contemplate surrounded by a fine collection of ancient sculptures.

It was his heir, also named Odoardo, who transformed it into a far grander space. The terraces and staircases topped by the twin aviaries, the remains of which are all that remains of the much larger Farnese Gardens, were built at Odoardo’s request by the family architect Girolamo Rainaldi. The cardinal’s old “triclinium” was turned into a sumptuous nymphaeum, inspired by the nymphaea of ancient Rome and Greece, natural or artificial grottoes used as sanctuaries to the water nymphs and as refreshing assembly rooms for recreation.

In the summer heat, he would welcome guests for parties and concerts into the cool, shady freshness of the nymphaeum. Its fountain, artfully designed to look like a stalactite formation employed a complex series of pipes to move water from the main fountain of the garden through limestone rocks, faux stalactites and seven metal trays from which numerous jets sprang, recreating the sights and sounds of natural rainfall inside the nymphaeum. Baroque artist Giovan Battista Magni, known as il Modanino (1591/92-1674), decorated the walls and ceilings with climbing vines and created the illusion of an opening at the top of the ceiling where birds, grape vines and musicians adorn an arched balustrade looking down at the assembled visitors below.

The garden fell into neglect and disrepair in the 18th century and when it was acquired by the newly-unified Italy in 1870, much of what remains was demolished to excavate the ancient palace underneath it. The very top of the terraced garden, including the nymphaeum, survived, but in parlous condition. The frescoes were lost, faded or plastered over, and only rediscovered at the end of the 1950s. For decades it has been too unstable, suffering greatly from moisture penetration, to allow tourists to get a glimpse of its frescoed plaster walls and ceiling framing the elaborate Fountain of the Rain.

The Archaeological Park of the Colosseum embarked on a major conservation project to restore the Nymphaeum in 2020. It took three years to repair the water infiltration problem and restore the damaged structure. The Fountain of the Rain has been restored to its original design, with its hydraulic system of seven different metal trays of different size that replicated the sound of rain and its fake stalactites. The restoration of the full frescoes with its climbing vines and musicians looking down on the room from the ceiling sheds new light on the original function of the space, a faux garden pergola where music, poetry and the arts were enjoyed in an environment of simulated nature and ancient influence.

Bronze Age yoke found in northern Italy

A rare 3,300-year-old wooden yoke discovered in a Late Bronze Age pile-dwelling settlement in Este in the Veneto region of northern Italy has been presented to the public after eight years of complex excavation, recovery and restoration.

The yoke, other wooden objects, metal ornaments and pottery fragments were discovered in 2015 during an archaeological survey before a new methane pipeline was slated to be laid in the Via Comuna. The area is rich in archaeological remains, hence the investigation along the route of the pipeline expansion, but the presence of a prehistoric Bronze Age settlement was previously unknown. Dendrochronological and radiocarbon dating of the wooden remains revealed the settlement was in use from the middle of the 14th century to the middle of the 13th century B.C. Before this discovery, a smattering of finds from the period had been made in the Este area, but this is the only clearly structured Bronze Age settlement ever found.

The area was a wetland in the Bronze Age (pile dwellings were built over the water), and the muddy conditions preserved organic remains like wood for thousands of years. To stabilize the wet wood in laboratory conditions, sections of soil were removed en bloc and transported to the Central Institute for Restoration in Rome where specialists in the conservation of waterlogged wood performed a painstaking micro-excavation, followed by PEG treatment and a controlled drying to stabilize the wood.

The yoke is the stand-out object of the ones excavated so far. It is a head yoke, used by attaching it to the neck of a pair of draft animals (probably oxen) and securing it to their horns with leather straps or ropes. Curved cut-outs were made to fit the yoke snugly around the animals’ horns.

It was originally estimated to be one meter (3.2 feet long), but about foot of it — the section that was mounted to the second animal of the pair — did not survive the millennia. This is significantly smaller than early modern yokes, evidence that domesticated bovines in the Bronze Age northern Italy were smaller than they would later become. Of particular archaeological interest is an ancient repair to one of the teeth in the yoke beam to which the horns were strapped. It must have broken off during use and the farmer or craftsman dug out a square hole to insert a new tooth.

Another wooden object found in the 2015 excavation is incomplete and of unknown purpose, but it too bears the signs of its crafting. There is a fine, straight line crossing the wide end. This was likely a guide mark for a second element that intended to be joined to it with wooden dowels. (Nails didn’t exist yet.) Two small holes on each end of the line were probably the peg holes.

Two coils of wood discovered in a trench with a fairly chaotic mixture of objects were initially thought to be the bases of woven baskets. The micro-excavation in the laboratory revealed them to be raw material looped for storage, not woven basketry, but perhaps intended for that ultimate purpose.

The excavation and conservation is not over yet. There are more wood artifacts to be discovered in the soil blocks, and more analysis of the objects that have been stabilized to be done. Next on the agenda for the yoke, coils and unknown object is to investigate the place of origin of the wood.

This Italian-language video has excellent shots of the conserved finds and of the pile dwelling remains in situ.

Medieval skeleton with prosthetic hand found in Bavaria

The skeletal remains of a late medieval man with an iron prosthetic hand have been discovered in Freising, Bavaria. There are only about 50 comparable prostheses known from Central Europe in the late medieval and early modern periods. They range from immobile shaped devices to articulated ones with mechanical elements. This one is immobile.

The grave was unearthed in 2017 during pipeline work near the 17th century Baroque parish church of St. Georg in the central square of Freising’s old town. Examination of the remains at the conservation workshops of the Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation (BLfD) found the deceased was an adult male between 30 and 50 years of age. Radiocarbon dating revealed he died between 1450 and 1620.

The corroded lump of metal at the end of the skeleton’s left arm was given a rough, preliminary cleaning and stabilized so it could be X-rayed and studied for any traces of leather or textiles. X-rays taken in 2021 revealed that the hand prosthesis was hollow with four fingers — the index, middle, ring and pinky. They were fabricated from sheet metal and are immobile. The fingers are parallel to each other and appear to be slightly curved.

A thumb bone from his left hand is inside the corroded prosthetic hand. BlfD conservators believe it was covered with leather and tied to the stump of the left hand with straps. Traces of a wrinkled, gauze-like textile inside the fingers are probably the remains of a fabric used to cushion the stump. An iron prosthetic like this, even without articulating elements, was expensive, and given how many men of soldiering age were mercenaries or pledged fighters for the endlessly squabbling aristocracy of late medieval Germany, the deceased may have lost his hand in battle. So far, researchers have not been able to determine how the wound was inflicted.

One well-known amputee with a prosthetic hand from this period was the Imperial Knight Götz von Berlichingen, also known Götz of the Iron Hand. He fought for Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, and later sold his sword to a long list of princes, dukes and margraves in the wars of the late 15th and 16th century. He lost his right hand at the wrist in 1504 when a cannon ball struck it during the siege of Landshut, a Bavarian city just 25 miles from Freising. His first prosthetic was made by a local blacksmith out of iron. Later he upgraded to a high-tech model with fingers that could curl up, allowing him to hold reigns, weapons, even a quill pen. Both of the Götz’s iron hands are on display in his ancestral home, today the castle museum of the Götzenburg in Jagsthausen.

5,000-year-old mother goddess found in İzmir’s most ancient settlement

Archaeologists excavating the Yeşilova Mound in the Bornova district of İzmir, Turkey, have unearthed a 5,000-year-old mother goddess figurine. Made out of terracotta, the petite goddess is just four inches tall. She is depicted nude with her hair tied in a conical bun at the nape of her neck. Her arms are outstretched and her feet form a single pedestal so that she can stand upright.

The Yeşilova Mound is the oldest prehistoric settlement in İzmir dating back to 6,500 B.C. Its discovery in 2003 redefined the chronology of human settlement in the İzmir area, pushing it back thousands of years from what was previously thought to be its origins in the 3rd millennium B.C. The mound has been excavated since 2005, revealing four main settlement layers: from the oldest Neolithic level to the Late Roman period. The remains of copious seafood — particularly mussels shells — point to the residents having subsisted largely on the fruits of the nearby Aegean coast.

The female figurine dates to the Bronze Age layer of occupation. The architectural remains from this period are significantly more elaborate. Rectangular structures, believed to be long houses, were built with high stone walls. These structures were heavily damaged in an earthquake 5,000 years ago and were later rebuilt in the next phase of occupation.

The style of the fertility goddess, her gathered hair and outstretched arms, connects the Yeşilova Mound settlement and therefore prehistoric İzmir to other Aegean cultures.

Ege University Faculty of Letters Department of Archeology Lecturer and Head of Excavation Assoc. Dr. Zafer Derin said, “It is important that this artifact was found in a 5,000-year-old settlement. More importantly, similar ones are found in Lesbos.” Island. There are similar ones in the city of Thermi in Lesbos, one of the Aegean islands. There are even more similar ones here. However, the artifact we found belongs to the period 500 years before the ones in Lesbos. This artifact is a cultural interaction between the North Aegean Islands and even the Balkans. “It shows that it is true,” he said.