Smallest Neolithic pot of its kind found in China

Archaeologists excavating the Peiligang site in Xinzheng, Henan Province, eastern China, have discovered a Neolithic pot that is the smallest of its kind. This type of small-mouthed, pointed-bottom amphora-like vessel is one of the characteristic artifacts produced by the Neolithic Yangshao culture. Dating to around 7,700 years ago, this example also the earliest of its kind, pushing back the history of this form by several centuries and providing new evidence about their origin.

The bottle is about 10 cm (four inches) long, smaller than more typical examples of this style. and was found this summer in an excavation of the Neolithic burial area on the west bank of the Shuangjie river which flows north-south through the western section of the Peiligang site. About 20 new tombs were unearthed in the excavation of the burial area. Few grave goods were found and most of them were agricultural tools, usually a combination of a shovel and sickle. A handful of sharpening stones and stone objects were also unearthed from these tombs. The small pot was discovered in Tomb M48.

The Yangshao culture occupied the middle areas of the Yellow River from between 5000 to 3000 B.C. The Yangshao people cultivated crops, supplementing their diets by hunting and moving on to new settlements when the land was no longer productive. The excavation uncovered evidence of pre-Yangshao peoples having lived and worked at Peiligang — ostrich egg beaded ornaments, animal bone fragments, clam shells, pottery fragments, quartz and flint lithics — in the Late Paleolithic.

An early-stage pottery kiln unearthed this year reveals that the Paleolithic Peiligang culture produced pottery at the site and provides new information about transition from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic cultures in the area. Archaeologists believe the small pot may have been used to make koji, a rice wine fermented using the monascus mold (red yeast mold), a process that the Paleolithic settlers of the Peiligang site had already learned.

Last day of WWI frozen in ice cave

Objects left behind on the last day of World War and literally frozen in time in an underground cave shelter high in the Alps are now being explored by archaeologists.

The artificially barracked cave was built by a small contingent of Austro-Hungarian troops in the summer of 1915. They had taken this vertiginous point on top of Mount Scorluzzo more than 10,000 feet above sea level to wrest control of the strategically essential Stelvio Pass on the border between Austria, Italy and Switzerland. Italy had failed to garrison the pass so Imperial troops took it unopposed in June and quickly set to fortifying their position.

Despite several attempts by Italian forces to retake Mount Scorluzzo during the course of the war, Austria held it until the end. The Mount Scorluzzino cave shelter was part of a network of concrete, stone and wood defenses built by the Austro-Hungarian army. They dug out the cave at right angles to the slope of the mountain and built a trench leading to an observatory over the pass. The shelter had a stove, a dormitory that slept about 20 and a room with a cot and a stool behind a wood panel that served as the commander’s quarters. The shelter was abandoned after the Armistice of Villa Giusti ended the war between Austria-Hungary and the Allied powers on November 3rd, 1918.

The winter snows over the next few years sealed it in, making the cave inaccessible to all but a handful of highly motivated relic hunters. Water penetrated the deepest part of the shelter, freezing and preserving the contents for a century.

Climate change began to melt the surface of the thick glacial ice, and the first wood structures of the barracks of the larger Scorluzzo shelter near the cave were spotted in 2015. The rapidly retreating glacier made it possible for archaeologists to excavate Scorluzzo, and from 2017 to 2019, more than 300 objects — uniforms, munitions, lanterns, documents, personal belongings — were recovered. In 2020, the entire structure was dismantled timber by timber and moved by helicopter to Bormio where it would be reconstructed in a museum.

The Scorluzzino cave shelter, however, has only begun to be thoroughly documented and excavated, and it is shedding new light on the little known details of the White War (the Alpine front during World War I).

We now know that the Austro-Hungarian army, so far from the sea, used straw-filled sacks not with straw but with algae, well-suited for their antiseptic properties. An impressive logistical chain that started in Istria and reached an altitude of 2,995 meters. Even where La Guerra Bianca (The White War, in the Alps) made military presence sparser, Italian propaganda dropped irredentist newspapers in the trenches. The ice has preserved newspaper pages, notes, and correspondence. There are chargers for repeating weapons, standard-issue shovels, nails to hang cartridge pouches, and the pouches themselves. Food tins scraped clean due to hunger, with apricot kernels split to eat the contents, a clear sign of starvation. All this in the 12 meters of depth carved into the rock, three meters wide and about two meters high, entirely lined with carefully crafted Val Venosta wood that still proudly fulfills its function, albeit compromised in some places after years.

This video (in Italian with English subtitles) gives a guided tour of this icy time capsule.

Longsword and longer man found in medieval burial in Sweden

A medieval grave containing the remains of a man more than six feet tall with a sword more than four feet long has been discovered in the port city of Halmstad on Sweden’s west coast. The sword was placed at the man’s left side and was the only artifact in the grave. Osteological examination of the skeletal remains found the man was at least 6’3″ and the surviving parts of the sword, wooden hilt included, are 4’3″ long.

The burial was discovered at Lilla Torg, a square in the city center that in the 15th century was part of the Franciscan monastery of Sankta Annas. The first excavation at the square in 1932 found the remains of the monastery kitchen and of the church. This year’s excavation found more of the monastery church. The grave with the sword was discovered under the floor of the south nave. Two other graves were found next to him, one belonging to an adult woman, the other to a man.

No other objects were preserved in the three investigated graves. The sword is also the only decommissioned object found in the 49 graves examined so far during the ongoing reconstruction of Lilla Torg. Finding swords in medieval graves is very rare, and the people who were buried with swords belonged to the upper echelons of society. The sword find at Lilla Torg confirms that Sankta Anna’s church was used as a burial place for, among other things, people of noble birth during the 35 years that the Franciscan order operated on the site.

The sword has been removed from the ground and sent to conservation to begin examination and treatment of the find in a protective environment. The first X-ray image of the find shows that the blade is decorated with two inlaid crosses, probably in precious metal. Already when the sword was found, the field archaeologists could guess that the blade was decorated, something that the X-ray image has now confirmed.

Halmstad received its first town charter in 1307 and its current historic center was established in the 1320s. It was part of the Kingdom of Denmark at that time. The Sankta Annas monastery, built between 1494 and 1503 with the aid of a donation of an expensive silver plate from Christina of Saxony, then Queen of Denmark, had a brief life. It was shut down by the city magistrate in 1531 and the property repurposed to various uses including as a hospital and an armory. What was left of the monastery burned down in a 1619 fire that destroyed much of the town.

Roman tomb found at Apollo “Lord of the Mice” sanctuary

A monumental tomb from the Roman era has been unearthed at the Apollon Smintheus Sanctuary in the village of Gülpınar, Çanakkale, western Turkey. The bones had been disturbed and were found mixed together, but so far the skeletal remains of more than 10 individuals, adults and children, were discovered in the tomb. These were likely to be members of wealthy families, able to commission a large tomb at a very important sacred site.

Smintheus has been interpreted to mean “Lord of Mice,” an epithet for Apollo first recorded by Homer in Book I of The Iliad, although the root of the word is not Greek and Homer never explains its meaning. Before the Trojan War even starts, Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, sacks the city of Chryse, kidnapping Chryseis, daughter of Chryses, priest of Apollo at the city’s sanctuary. When Agamemnon spurns Chryses’ offer of a rich ransom for the return of his daughter and throws in some insults to the god he represents while he’s at it, the priest prays to Apollo, addressing him as “O, Sminthian,” and asks him to send a plague to punish the Greeks for their offenses. Apollo is glad to help.

The Smintheion temple was built in the ancient town of Hamaxitus around 150 B.C. in Ionic style. Pieces of the entablature have survived, decorated with scenes from the Iliad. Fragments of a monumental statue more than 16 feet high have been found at the site, and according to coins and ancient sources, the statue depicted Apollo trampling a mouse. The deity was believed to protect farmers from the scourge of crop-devouring mice.

It was the second most important temple in the Troas region of Anatolia, and the sanctuary precinct was expanded during the Roman period to include two large public baths where pilgrims cleansed and purified themselves before worship, seven water cisterns to supply the baths and the sacred road connecting the temple to the city of Alexandria Troas 20 miles to the north.

Excavations have been carried out regularly at the temple site since 1980. This year’s dig season (June 15th-October 1st) uncovered the remains of two tombs and the foundations of several buildings.

Hüseyin Yaman, a member of the excavation team said: “We aim not only to acquire information about the burial traditions of individuals and communities that once existed here but also to contribute to the delineation of the distribution area of sacred structures, or in other words, to determine the boundaries of the sacred area. In line with this goal, in the excavations conducted at three different points, we revealed remnants of two tombs alongside foundational remains of some structures. Based on the artifacts found in the only room that seemed to have survived with intact foundations in the monumental tomb, we estimate its origin to be approximately 2,000 years ago, around the first century A.D.”

Vasa in dire need of support

The Swedish royal warship Vasa, meant to be the flagship of King Gustav II Adolf’s new powerful naval fleet, sank 400 from the dock in Stockholm bay on its maiden voyage in 1628. It was raised from the sea bed in 1961, preserved by the cold waters in eerily good condition. It was conserved for 27 years at the Wasa Shipyard before moving into its permanent home at the custom-built Vasa Museum in 1988. It has been one of Sweden’s top tourist destinations ever since, drawing upwards of one million visitors a year.

Now, 395 years after it went down the first time, Vasa is sinking again. The steel shoring struts that have been supporting it since 1964 are insufficient to bear the ship’s great weight, and worse than that, the cradle is putting pressure on the fragile timbers, cracking and warping them. Vasa is continuously being monitored and measured to detect any potential conservation issues, and the data show it is sinking downwards and outwards at a very slow, but very steady rate of a millimeter a year. As gradual as the shifting is, if uninterrupted, the ship will start falling apart.

The Vasa Museum has undertaken a wide-ranging investigation to discover what kind of pressures Vasa‘s wooden structure can stand, teaming with researchers from Uppsala University, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, the KTH Royal Institute of Technology and other institutions. They have identified several decomposition processes that are causing the wood to deteriorate much more rapidly than it did in the cold, brackish waters of the Baltic. The current strength of the ship’s timbers is no more than 40% the level of normal oak.

In such a weakened state, the timbers are simply incapable of bearing the weight of the rebuilt ship. To address this fatal structural instability, the Vasa Museum team is going back to the drawing board, redesigning the support structure starting with a new internal support system that will rest on a new external support. The internal structure will be a framework of pipes that will unobtrusively add load-bearing strength and lock the ship into shape, preventing that constant movement downwards and outwards. The external supports will be streamlined and strengthened and then connected to the internal support network.

This is an absolutely huge project and unfortunately it cannot be accomplished without making changes to the ship itself. Parts of the interior will have to be removed and placed in storage to make way for the new internal structure. New holes will have to be drilled into the hull. Even the floor underneath it will need to be reinforced.

“It’s a big job,” said [project director Magnus] Olofsson. “We have already been researching for four years to see how we are going to do it, and then we’ve been working on construction drawings for four years and now we are beginning the build, which will also take about four years.”

They have being carrying out test operations on full-scale models to make sure their plan will work. They do not, however, know exactly how much the vessel weighs. They estimate between 900 and 1,000 tonnes.

But the project is coming at a substantial cost, which the self-funded museum is appealing to donors and sponsors to finance. The museum’s director, Jenny Lind, said she was hopeful the Swedish public would come through to raise the funds to embark on the ship’s “biggest challenge” since its salvage and conservation.

“When Vasa was salvaged, the whole of Swedish society came together and made it possible to salvage this ship. It wasn’t just the state, it was private companies, big actors in society that helped out, but also private individuals,” she said. “So that’s why we’re coming out again and saying we need help again.”

Right now the Vasa Museum is not set up for easy online donations, just bank transfers (information here) and contributions via the Swish app (info here).