Update: Heraclea Sintica statue shows his face

The larger-than-life-sized statue of a male deity found in the Roman-era sewer of the ancient town of Heraclea Sintica near Petrich in southwestern Bulgaria has shown his face. Archaeologists finished excavating the statue, which had been buried in the sewer face to the wall and covered with soil, revealing the face and the right arm. Unfortunately no right hand survived.

This is a young face with short hair. It’s definitely not a statue of the Atalante Hermes type which has a more mature face and thick, wavy hair. His build seems slighter too. It bears some of the characteristics of portraits of Roman emperors depicted as gods. It looks more like a young Caligula, Octavian or Gaius Caesar than any of the 2nd century emperors, but they certainly weren’t making statues of Caligula at that time. Having seen the full statue, excavation leader Dr. Lyudmil Vagalinski suspects it was made earlier than the initial 2nd century estimate.

In order to remove the statue from the sewer, exact measurements were taken and a custom metal carriage built inside the sewer. The statue was then lifted for packing in a secure crate. After six hours of hard work, the statue was removed from the sewer Friday, July 12th. It was raised with a crane to a track and then transported with police escort to the Petrich Historical Museum.

Wealthy Chimu burials found in Chan Chan

Archaeologists excavating the ancient site of Chan Chan near Trujillo in northern Peru have discovered burials of wealthy members of Chimu society. The disarticulated remains of 11 individuals were found buried with fine ornaments — necklaces, earrings, bracelets — indicating they were members of the ruling class of the city. The burials are about 800 years old.

The remains were found in an excavation of the Utzh An (the Great Chimu palace) complex. The goal of the excavation was to research and conserve the palace’s eastern perimeter walls, shedding new light on Chimu construction techniques, architecture and materials. Investigations carried out between 2017 and 2022 already uncovered a 19 wooden sculptures on the north wall and a mass grave containing the remains of 25 people.

The director of the project for the Restoration of the perimeter walls of the Utzh An walled complex, Sinthya Cueva, explained that the remains are linked to 3 pairs of ear ornaments and 2 necklaces of beads (chaquiras) and Spondylus shells that would belong to individuals of a high administrative rank from the period.

The archaeologist pointed out that the area was not prepared to be a cemetery, but there is a possibility that once the site was abandoned it was used for that purpose, although everything will be determined at the end of the investigations and analysis that will be carried out together with the team in the office.

Chan Chan was the capital of the Chimu empire (Chimor), a pre-Inca society that occupied the northern coastal area of Peru between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes from the mid-9th century until they were conquered by the Inca in 1470. Chan Chan was a large urban center built of mud brick that was one of the largest adobe cities in the world in and the largest city in pre-Columbian South America with a population of 40,000-60,000.

Five musket balls “heard round the world” found at Concord

Archaeologists excavating Minute Man National Historical Park in Concord, Massachusetts, have discovered five musket balls fired by the colonial militia against the British in the first battle of the Revolutionary War on April 19th, 1775. The musket balls were unearthed by National Parks Services archaeologists at the North Bridge battle site, famed as the place where the colonial militia were for the first time ordered by their leaders to fire on British soldiers.

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who coined the phrase “The shot heard round the world” to describe the militia firing on the regulars at North Bridge in his 1837 poem “Concord Hymn.” The first shots on that day actually took place on Lexington Green at 5 AM. It was a chaotic and brief scuffle triggered when a shot of unknown source was fired and the British infantry charged the militia. The militia company’s commander, Captain Parker, had no intention of engaging the regular troops and ordered his men to disband when he saw the regulars approach. The British attacked quickly, bayonetting the militia men on the green and shooting at them when they retreated.

The clash at North Bridge took place at 9:30 that morning. The British troops were deployed to secure the bridge to prevent any rebels from sneaking out of town, and so they could cross it seeking armaments and supplies at Barrett’s farm a mile away. At first the militia were outnumber 3:1, but while the regulars were searching Barrett’s farm, colonial officers were getting reinforcements and when the two sides met at the bridge, the militia outnumbered the regulars.

The militia were ordered not to fire unless fired upon, and fired upon they were. Major John Buttrick gave the fateful order to fire back, and the British line broke. Twelve British soldiers and four officers were hit. Three of the soldiers were killed. One militia officer and one private were killed and four others wounded.

The musket balls were discovered by archeologists conducting compliance activities in preparation for the park’s Great American Outdoors Act project. The musket balls were found in an area where, according to contemporary accounts, British soldiers formed up to resist the river crossing. Further analysis of the musket balls indicates that each one was fired from the opposite side of the river and not dropped during the process of reloading.

“It’s incredible that we can stand here and hold what amounts to just a few seconds of history that changed the world almost 250 years ago,” said Minute Man Park Ranger and historic weapons specialist Jarrad Fuoss. “These musket balls can be considered collectively as ‘The Shot Heard Round the World,’ and it is incredible that they have survived this long. It is also a poignant reminder that we are all stewards of this battlefield and are here to preserve and protect our shared history.”

The balls will go on display Saturday, July 13th, at Minute Man National Historical Park.

Remains of Caligula’s garden found in Rome

Archaeological excavations at Piazza Pia in Vatican City in anticipation of 2025’s Jubilee Year have uncovered the remains of a colonnaded portico that Caligula built in what had once been his mother’s garden. The remains were found under a later fullonica (laundry) that is being relocated to the nearby Castel Sant-Angelo to make way for a new underpass. The structure consists of a wall of travertine blocks in the opus quadratum (squared) technique terracing the right bank of the Tiber. Behind the wall was the colonnaded portico of which only the foundations remains and a large garden.

This was part of the Horti Agrippinae, the gardens of Agrippina the Elder, Caligula’s mother, at her grand suburban villa outside the ancient walls of Rome. Agrippina’s gardens occupied much of today’s Vatican City. Last year archaeologists unearthed the remains of the theater Agrippina’s grandson Nero built on the grounds. Now they’ve found part of the garden Caligula took over.

One lead pipe identifies this as Caligula’s renovation of his mother’s villa and gardens complex. It is stamped “C(ai) Cæsaris Aug (usti) Germanici,” or Caius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, the full name of the son of Germanicus and Agrippina the Elder, grandson of Augustus Caesar. He was known as Caligula after the nickname his father’s soldiers gave him when he was a boy wearing a kid’s version of a military uniform, including the caligae, the hobnailed sandal boots of the legions.

Also from Piazza Pia, but from excavations at the beginning of the last century, come other lead pipes inscribed with the name of Iulia Augusta, presumably Livia Drusilla, the second wife of Augustus and grandmother of Germanicus. It is probable, therefore, that this luxurious residence was first inherited by Germanicus and then, upon his death, to his wife Agrippina the elder and then to his emperor son.

The excavation also revealed an important series of Campana slabs, figurative terracottas used for the decoration of roofs, with unusual mythological scenes, reused as covers for the sewers of the fullonica, but originally probably made for the covering of some structure in the garden, perhaps from the same portico.

There’s a notable reference to Caligula’s use of the Horti Agrippinae in Legatio ad Gaium (The Embassy to Gaius) by Philo of Alexandria, a philosopher and leader of the Jewish community in Alexandria. Philo was one of a delegation of Alexandrian Jews who went to Rome in 39 A.D. to petition for the emperor’s protection after riots targeting Jews in Alexandria the year before had destroyed the synagogues and driven much of the community out of the city. The petition was not ultimately successful, to put it mildly, (Caligula ordered a statue of himself as Jupiter be erected in the Temple in Jerusalem, although he was ultimately talked out of it by his old friend, the last Jewish king of Judea, Herod Agrippa) but the delegation’s first meeting with Caligula seemed to go rather well. From Legatio ad Gaium, XXVIII, 181:

[R]eceiving us favourably at first, in the plains on the banks of the Tiber (for he happened to be walking about in his mother’s garden), he conversed with us formally, and waved his right hand to us in a protecting manner, giving us significant tokens of his good will, and having sent to us the secretary, whose duty it was to attend to the embassies that arrived, Obulus by name, he said, “I myself will listen to what you have to say at the first favourable opportunity.”

The next time they met was in his palace on the Esquiline and there was no nice walk in mother’s garden and definitely no listening to what they had to say, just a lot of anger about Jews’ refusal to accept Caligula was a god.

7th c. icon Madonna of the Pantheon restored

The Madonna of the Pantheon, an extremely rare surviving icon from the Byzantine rule of Rome, has been restored. The Madonna of the Pantheon dates back to the consecration of the ancient Roman temple to all the gods as the Christian Basilica of Santa Maria ad Martyres on May 13th, 609 A.D. The temple was given to Pope Boniface IV by the Byzantine Emperor Phocas and the pope transformed it in a church dedicated to Mary and all the Christian martyrs who had died from persecution. The Madonna of the Pantheon was likely given to Boniface by Phocas as part of the gifts and offerings made in honor of the consecration of the new church.

The icon is a Virgin Hodegetria, a type of Christian iconography that depicts Mary holding the Baby Jesus seated in her arms and pointing to him with her right hand. The motif was popular in Byzantine art starting in the 5th century. Legend has it that the first of these icons was painted by Luke the Evangelist, no less, and was discovered in the Holy Land by the Byzantine Empress Aelia Eudocia, wife of Theodosius II.

Painted with egg tempera on an elm wood panel, the Madonna of the Pantheon is a fragment of the original which was much larger, longer and made of three boards. Art historians believe the Madonna was once represented in full figure, very rare for an icon of this type, its grand dimensions created to suit the grand dimensions of its home. It was venerated by pilgrims for centuries, and many layers of varnish and overpaint were applied in the attempt to preserve it even as the wood and original paint deteriorated. These interventions backfired, of course, leaving the icon in atrocious condition.

It was last restored in 1961, after which it was moved to a small chapel within the Pantheon for security reasons while a 1959 copy was placed in the apse above the altar. The new restoration employed far less invasive methods with a focus on removing the artifacts of prior interventions and filling in the many areas of paint loss using materials and techniques that are fully reversible if it becomes necessary down the road. The diagnostic and restoration processes took eight months. The results are excellent, the golden glow of its background and the original palette revived .

Last year, Italy’s Culture Ministry announced to general outrage that the Pantheon would for the first charge visitors an entry fee. The default ticket would cost €5 (discounts for people 18-25, free for residents of Rome, children and the disabled) with 70% of the proceeds going the Culture Ministry to fund the maintenance of the Pantheon and 30% going to the Church. Entry would still be free the first Sunday of every both, although tickets would have to be booked in advance.

Despite the howls of protest over a church charging admission, the most visited monument in Rome didn’t miss a beat. In the first month since ticket sales began on July 3rd, 2023, almost 230,000 visitors crossed the Pantheon’s threshold, putting €865,000 into its coffers, far exceeding expectations. The Pantheon is flush now, and the Culture Ministry is using that money to improve access to the ancient temple and restoring its cultural treasures like the icon and the ancient polychrome marble floor.