Roman wall, tower found in Narbonne

A preventative archaeology excavation at a real estate development site in the historic center of Narbonne, southern France, has uncovered the remains of an early imperial-era Roman wall and tower. Preliminary estimates based on the measurements and construction style of the wall and tower date them to the last decades of the 1st century B.C. The discovery came as a surprise as this is the first evidence that the ancient city of Narbo Martius, the first Roman colony established outside of Italy, had defensive walls of any kind.

The excavation unearthed a section of wall 100 feet long. It is an enclosing wall connected to a round masonry tower. The tower was constructed in an unusual fashion: the base of the round tower is inset in a square foundation. This was likely done to give the massive walls additional stability.

Colonia Narbo Martius was founded by Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus in 118 B.C., two years after he and Quintus Fabius Maximus Allobrogicus defeated the Arverni and the Allobroges and conquered all of southern Gaul. As proconsul of Gaul, Gnaeus Domitius built the first Roman road in Gaul, the Via Domitia, running from Spain to Italy through his new colony. He then built the second Roman road in Gaul, the Via Aquitania, that ran from Narbo through the Aquitaine province to the Atlantic Ocean. The city was also located at the mouth of the Aude river at that time, situating it at a strategic crossroads for trade, agriculture, travel and Roman military expansion.

Marcus Tullius Cicero, in his oration in defense of Marcus Fonteius, the former praetor of Gallia Narbonensis who was accused by Gallic tribespeople of financially exploiting the province for his own gain, describes Narbo Martius as “a citizen-colony, which stands as a watch-tower and bulwark of the Roman people, and a barrier of defense against these tribes.” Cicero made that speech in 69 B.C., and after that Narbo’s importance only grew. Julius Caesar refounded it in 46-45 B.C. as a colony for the veterans of his Tenth Legion, then Augustus made it the capital of the province of Gallia Narbonensis in 22 B.C.

The area of Narbonne currently under excavation was on the outskirts of the ancient city. It was built around 50 A.D. to store trade goods. The excavation revealed three or four warehouses on the site, three streets, an alley and a system of intersecting canals that managed rain and waste water evacuation. One of the warehouses had an unusual design: the ground floor, used for storage, was kept clean by a drainage crawl space made out of recycled amphorae. The upper floor was a either a home or office, and a rather nice one at that, with concrete floors, mosaics and mud brick walls painted to look like marble panels. This warehouse and another one were severely damaged in the same fire event, but were reconstructed.

These discoveries are linked to the urban port of Narbo Martius , located along the ancient arm of the Aude. This constitutes, with the maritime outer port whose remains have been observed at several points (Île Saint-Martin in Gruissan, Mandirac, La Nautique), a complex port system whose importance is attested in particular in the texts and ancient inscriptions. This excavation contributes to the identification of the ancient route of the river, the course of which was partly artificialized during the canalization of the Robine in the 18th century .

The structures, which would usually be reburied or, quel dommage, allowed to be destroyed when construction at the site resumed, are so significant that the developers have decided to integrate the finds into their new construction.

Sole surviving ancient Greek funerary relief of twin babies unveiled

The National Archaeological Museum of Athens has unveiled a fragment of a funerary stele that is the only surviving carving of a pair of twin babies in arms from ancient Greece. The marble infants cradled in a pair of female hands date to the 4th century B.C. and were likely part of a tomb marker of a woman who died in childbirth.

The “stele of the twin babies” was discovered in a stream in Menidi, a municipality a few miles north of downtown Athens, by a shell collector in 2008. He swaddled the marble infants in an old cloth and brought them to the National Archaeological Museum. They have now gone on display as part of the museum’s Unseen Museum initiative. The exhibition puts the spotlight on objects in the museum’s vaults, pulling antiquities out of storage and in front of the public for the first time.

The heads of the twins are standing out from their swaddling clothes and the mother’s hands are seen holding their little bodies next to each other. […]

This is the only surviving funerary relief of the ancient Greek world depicting twin babies in the same arms, which indicates their common fate as orphans, the museum says in a statement.

The museum published a collage image of the stele of the twin babies with the relief of Philonoe, suggesting a reconstructed image of what the tombstone might have looked like as a whole.

The stele of the twin babies went on display Thursday, March 21st, and will be in the museum’s Altar Hall through Monday, May 13th. On eight days during the course of the exhibition, museum archaeologists will share the history of the stele of the twin babies, its discovery, its context, the significance of twins in Greek mythology and the lives and deaths of children in ancient Greece.

Section of Roman 3rd century wall found in Aachen

The remains of a 3rd century Roman fortification have been unearthed in Aachen, Germany. An excavation in concert with infrastructure work on the Pontstrasse uncovered the foundation of a large masonry wall of Roman construction. The excavation has so far revealed a 23-foot section of wall three feet thick. The full length and maximum width of the surviving segment have not yet been uncovered.

Fames as the capital of Charlemagne’s empire (800-814 A.D.) and the city where subsequent kings of Germany and Holy Roman Emperors were crowned until 1531, Aachen’s history long predates the Middle Ages. It was a Celtic settlement before the Roman legions occupied it in the early 1st century, developing its natural sulfur thermal springs into a bath complex and sanctuary. The Roman military presence ended in the 370s under pressure from migrating Germanic tribes. Frankish rule was established a hundred years later.

Scholars have believed since the 1880s that there was a late Roman fort in Aachen, but its location was unknown and it was only in 2011 and 2014 that excavations found remnants of the castrum at the bottom of the market hill.

After Aachen was destroyed in the course of Frankish raids around 275/276 AD, the entire market hill was reinforced with a wall with round towers that was five meters wide at the foundation. In front of it was a ditch around six meters wide. The latter was discovered on the Katschhof in 2011. Comparable forts are known from Jülich, Bitburg and Jünkerath. The late Roman defensive wall was continued to be used by Charlemagne. Its King’s Hall (today’s town hall) was built on its southern flank. The fort walls were not demolished until the 12th century.

Emperor Frederick Barbarossa demolished the ancient walls when he built new defensive walls between 1172 and 1176, but obviously he didn’t obliterate every trace of them. One notable section of wall with the base of one of the round towers has been preserved under a plexiglass floor in front of the restrooms of the Five Guys restaurant in the Markt 46 building.

The remains of the wall that have now been encountered run parallel to Pontstrasse. “It could be the remains of a gate,” suspect Schaub and Kyritz. The experts suspect further gates along Jakobsstrasse at the junction with the market and at the beginning of Großkölnstrasse. However, there are no concrete findings for this.

The aim is to preserve the remarkable current archaeological find as best as possible. Intensive discussions are currently underway on this. After the archaeological finds have been assessed and documented, construction work at the site will continue as planned. Basically, the excavation work in Pontstrasse is already continuing under archaeological supervision.

90-year-old British train container found in Belgium

A 90-year-old train container of the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) has been unearthed in Antwerp, Belgium. The carriage was discovered in an excavation along the route of the Oosterweel Link, a project to complete the R1 Antwerp Ring Road by connecting the highway with tunnels under the Scheldt River and Albert Canal. It had been buried in the Noordkasteel, a 19th century fortress overlooking the Scheldt that was converted into a recreational park in 1934.

The wagon was placed on a concrete slab embedded into the embankment filled with sandy soil. Nobody knows why it ended up being buried in Antwerp or when.

In the early 19th century, simple square boxes were used in England for rail transport. Railroad companies quickly switched to standardized containers that were easier to load and unload.

The first model of LNER (London North Eastern Railway), one of the four English railway companies, was painted reddish brown around 1930. A few years later this color changed to the characteristic blue. The red container was only in use for a few years, which makes this find very rare.

The number BK769 identifies it as a furniture container with a capacity of four imperial tons (8960 lbs) built in 1935 or 1936. Like a moving pod today, the container was designed to be loaded onto trucks or flat train wagons to move furniture from house to house. This was the only known surviving example of the red oxide LNER moving container.

I say “was,” because unfortunately the container did not survive excavation. The wooden walls were too unstable to remain standing when the soil was dug away. Recovery proved impossible and the walls collapsed. The box all but disintegrated.

Warring States cemetery with chariot burial found in central China

A large cemetery from the Warring States Period (475–221 B.C.) has been discovered in Xiangyang City, Hubei Province, central China, with finely furnished graves and one chariot burial.

Archaeologists from the Xiangyang Municipal Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology discovered the Baizhuang Cemetery in an excavation associated with an infrastructure project in June and July 2023. Excavations resumed in November 2023 in collaboration with the Hubei Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, and after a comprehensive exploration of the site, 176 tombs were unearthed. All but two of them were earthen pit tombs from the Warring States Period. The two exceptions date to the Han Dynasty (202 B.C. – 9 A.D., 25–220 A.D.).

Most of the Warring States tombs, 165 of them, are small pits between and six and eight feet long and 1.5 and six feet wide. Nine of them are significantly larger and have sloped passageways leading into them. The three largest (dubbed M1, M2 and M3) are between 31 and 34 feet long, including passageways, and between 17 and 21 feet wide.

M3 and M4 once contained wood coffins that have decayed leaving only blue-gray marks in the earthen platforms attesting to their presence, but the tombs are furnished with ample bronze grave goods. M3 contained 11 pieces of metalware, including bronze tripods, pots, boats, horse bits, swords, spears and spoons. M4 had a trio of bronze tripod, pot and boat.

The tombs excavated this time were densely distributed and neatly arranged, and a number of important cultural relics were unearthed. A bronze sword, horse bit, etc. were unearthed from M3, so it is inferred that the owner of the tomb is a male. Based on the size of the M3 tomb, the combination of bronze ritual vessels and the chariot and horse pits, it is speculated that the owner of the tomb should belong to the first-level nobleman. M4’s status is obviously lower than M3, and he may be M3’s spouse. The M1 tomb is the largest in scale. Although no copper ritual vessels were buried with it, not only did it use green paste clay in the tomb, but it also had the largest number of burial objects. The identity of the tomb owner should be close to that of M3.

Just 24 feet northwest of M3, archaeologists found a chariot and horse burial dubbed CHMK1, also from the Warring States Period. The burial contained one wooden cart, now completely decayed, and the partial skeletal remains of two horses. The horses were place on either side of the chariot shaft back-to-back. Archaeologists believe the horses were dead before burial.

In total, more than 500 artifacts were unearthed in the cemetery excavation, most of them pottery. About 40 bronze objects — ritual vessels, swords, spears — were recovered, as were six pieces of wooden daily utensils — combs, wire-winding rods — and jewelry like jade rings.