Ancient agora of Abakainon found in Sicily

The remains of an imposing Greco-Roman era public structure have been unearthed in the small village of Tripi, in the Messina area of northeast Sicily. The stone block construction and a terrace identify the structure as the stoa, the open passage between colonnades that overlooked the agora, the political and commercial center of the Greek city. This discovery is key evidence confirming that modern-day Tripi was the location of the ancient city of Abakainon (Abacaenum to the Romans).

Unlike many other cities in Magna Graecia (the regions of southern Italy colonized and influenced by Greek settlers), Abakainon was not founded by colonists from Greece. It was part of the Greek sphere of influence, but it was a city of the Siculi, the local tribe of eastern Sicily and the island’s namesake. The date of its founding is unknown, but may go back as far as 1100 B.C. Ancient sources and numismatic evidence record the city as a thriving concern by the 5th century B.C. It was an important city, rich in agriculture and trade, and controlled a large territory from the Tyrrhenian Sea to the foothills of Mount Etna. It minted its own coins and was allied to Carthage in the First Punic War, putting it in the crosshairs of Rome.

Its alliance with Carthage and later its submission to Rome led to its destruction and subsequent disappearance. This was the accepted narrative until recent times. However, the discovery of coins during recent excavations seems to challenge this established story. Since the second half of the last century, there had been credible speculation about the true location of Abakainon in the territory of Tripi and its actual size. Excavation campaigns promoted by the current municipal administration have now unequivocally confirmed the presence of an ancient city of significant size and wealth, shedding new light on the history of this site.

Tripi has a population of just 750 today, and the mayor is leaning heavily into its glorious ancient history as a means to stimulate tourist interest and a revival of population and business.

In Tripi, every corner of the village evokes the ancient grandeur of Abakainon, from the triumphal entrance surrounded by ceramics and fountains, to the bar in the heart of the old town, a community meeting point, to the traditional summer symposium. The castle, a witness to past eras and legends, offers spectacular views of the Aeolian Islands, while the urban architecture scattered throughout the hamlets of Casale, San Cono and Campogrande recalls the ancient layout of the town. Monumental necropolises from the late Classical and Hellenistic periods, such as that of Contrada Cardusa, testify to Abakainon’s prosperity and flourishing past. Here, early excavations uncovered gold jewelry and fine ornaments, evidence of the wealth and taste of the ancient inhabitants. The museum, currently being refunctionalized, preserves these artifacts, transforming itself into a kind of thousand-year-old jewelry store.

Today, with the holding of the referendum to change the town’s name to Tripi-Abakainon, the village also wants to definitively revive its social, economic and cultural development, thus sealing its rediscovered identity.

Oldest copper axe in Poland found

A copper axe dating to the 4th-3rd millennium B.C. is the oldest ever discovered in Poland. It may be the oldest copper artifact ever found in Poland.

It was found last August at a metal detectorist rally in the town of Matcze in southeastern Poland near the border with Ukraine. The rally was done with the permission of the Lublin Provincial Monument Protection Office, and the site was scanned in advance to salvage any archaeological materials while leaving behind more modern objects for the club members to find. The precaution proved ineffective when Krzysztof Gajos discovered a small copper axe. The find location was pinpointed with GPS and the artifact handed over to the Zamość delegation of the Monument Protection Office.

The axe has a fan-shaped blade 7.4 cm (3 inches) long, 4.1 cm (1.6 inches) wide and 1 cm (.4 inches) thick at the thickest point. Made with a simple casting method that predates the Bronze Age when copper axes became widespread, the axe has no comparable example on the archaeological record of Poland. An axe found in the Kiev region of Ukraine is virtually identical, however, and it was found with pottery fragments that identified it as the work of the Neolithic Cucuteni–Trypillia culture which occupied parts of modern-day Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and western Ukraine.

“It is true that we have recorded finds of Trypillian culture pottery from Gródek, Hrubieszów commune, and the presence of this ax in nearby Matcz can be considered as confirmation of the settlement of people of this culture also in eastern Poland, at least in the section of the upper Bug. This thesis may also be confirmed by a loose find a similar copper ax in Wożuczyn, Rachanie commune, Tomaszów poviat, about which Dr. Jan Gurba wrote , and which should now be at the Institute of Archeology of the Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin,” commented [the Lublin Provincial Conservator of Monuments].

The axe will be transferred to the Stanisław Staszic Regional Museum in Hrubieszów where it will be studied and analyzed further.

Head of Apollo joins Hercules in Philippi

A laureate head of Apollo from the 2nd or early 3rd century has been unearthed in the Greek city of Philippi. It was found in the 2023 excavation season at the intersection of the Decumanus (the main southern axis of the city) and the Egnatia (the northern axis) where the larger-than-life statue of the young Hercules was found in 2022. Archaeologists believe both statues were part of the same monumental, richly-decorated structure.

The 2022 excavation first revealed the presence of a large structure where the city’s two main thoroughfares met and widened into a square. Only fragments of the structure itself were found, so archaeologists could not conclusively determine what kind of structure it was, but the evidence suggests it was a fountain built in the Byzantine era, around the 8th or 9th century A.D. The Hercules statue and the head of Apollo (presumably still connected to a body at that time) date to the same period 500 or so years earlier. The pieces of ancient statuary were recycled into decorations for the Byzantine fountain.

We know from the sources as well as from the archaeological data that in Constantinople statues from the classical and Roman period adorned buildings and public spaces until the late Byzantine period.

This finding strengthens the hypothesis we formulated in 2022 about the way public spaces were decorated in the important cities of the Byzantine Empire, including Philippi.

The team of students and archaeologists from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki will continue the excavation of the site next season.

4,500-year-old burial found in prison sewer construction

An archaeological dig at the site of a sewer for a new prison currently being built in Full Sutton, East Yorkshire, has unearthed a 4,500-year-old grave and funerary monument. The individual was buried in the crouched position (knees bent and drawn up towards the chest) in a pit grave surrounded by a ring ditch and topped with a mound of stones. This type of mound is known as a round barrow, a common burial monument in Late Neolithic Britain.

Interestingly, the round barrow was constructed very close to, but not over, what archaeologists call a ‘burnt mound’. These enigmatic prehistoric sites are relatively common in upland areas where they survive as mounds of burnt stone and charcoal, but the lowland examples are less obvious due to being flattened by later ploughing. Little is known about what burnt mounds were used for, and their excavation is seen as an important research priority. […]

Previous excavations of similar sites in the UK and Ireland have shown that water was an important part of the process with water troughs lined with wood or clay being discovered. Other sites include earth-ovens or roasting pits and the combined evidence has led to several theories about what activities were carried out. The main theory is that stones were heated up and placed in the troughs to heat water, either during the process of dyeing cloth or cooking. Alternatively, some burnt mound sites include structures that could have been used as saunas.

The round barrow was disturbed by later agricultural activity, but the burial fortunately was not damaged. The skeletal remains were found in unusually good condition. The acidic soil of the area is harsh on bones, but in this case the grave had been backfilled with burned stone and charcoal from the adjacent burnt mound, helping to preserve the skeleton.

A small earth oven and a deep pit believed to have been a well were also found near the barrow. Heating stones were left in the oven from its last use and soil samples will be analyzed for traces of what might have been cooked there. The bottom of the well was still waterlogged, preserving part of its prehistoric wooden lining, a particularly exciting find. The waterlogged fill at the bottom of the well will also be sampled and analyzed for plant, animal and insect remains.

Ruby Slippers theft saga: now with revenge porn

The saga of the Ruby Slippers stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, in 2005 has just gotten even weirder. First 76-year-old Terry Martin admitted to the theft and said in his plea agreement that he thought the shoes were festooned with real rubies rather than sequins and glass beads. Now a second man has been charged with the theft plus another count of witness tampering for having threatened to release a sex tape of a woman if she told authorities he had the shoes.

The second man, Jerry Hal Saliterman, also 76 years old, was busted after a search of his home on December 20th, 2023. When the FBI showed up at his door with a search warrant in hand, Saliterman admitted that he had stolen goods in his home, but insisted they were all the products of old crimes. You’ll be shocked to read that statement was less than fully honest.

In a padlocked, fenced-off area under the stairs, agents found name-brand electronics, digital grills and wine pourers, all new and still in their boxes. A storage shed out back had expensive artworks. The raid also found disposable food storage containers full of an estimate $30,000 cash wrapped with foil to hide their contents.

A woman involved with the crimes confessed to the FBI that Saliterman led a retail theft ring that operated undeterred for 15 years, hitting such august locations as William Sonoma and the Apple Store hundreds of times each. The theft ring ceased operations only in 2021 or 2022.

It was this woman who knew about the Ruby Slippers because Saliterman had shown them to her in a grocery bag. He then put them in a plastic tub and buried them in the yard for seven years. According to the indictment, Saliterman had the shoes from the theft in 2005 until their recovery in 2018. Apparently he and his gang put the shoes in an ultraviolet sanitizer cabinet in a risible attempt to destroy any DNA evidence they left on them. He also threatened the woman with revenge porn and that he would “take her down with him” should she tell the authorities what she knew.

Saliterman has not yet entered a plea, but his attorney claimed he was not guilty. The FBI has not divulged the details of the investigation that located the shoes, just that they were recovered in Minneapolis in July 2018, but given the timeline in the indictment, presumably he kept them hidden until the very end.

While the perpetrators wend their ways through the court system, the Ruby Slippers were returned to their owner, collector Michael Shaw, last month. Shaw had loaned them to the museum where they were on display at the time of the theft and now that he has them back, he has decided to sell them. The shoes will be exhibited in Los Angeles, New York, London and Tokyo before going under the hammer at Heritage Auctions in December. The Judy Garland Museum and the Minnesota Historical Society are itching to acquire them for Judy Garland’s hometown museum, but with a pre-sale estimate of $3-5 million, they’re going to need a huge infusion of cash to beat the private bidders.