Computed Tomography and Roman Coins (mostly)

Interesting press release from Southampton which has been making the rounds of the news outlets in various forms … here’s the first three-quarters or so:

Archaeologists and engineers from the University of Southampton are collaborating with the British Museum to examine buried Roman coins using the latest X-ray imaging technology.

Originally designed for the analysis of substantial engineering parts, such as jet turbine blades, the powerful scanning equipment at Southampton’s µ-VIS Centre for Computed Tomography is being used to examine Roman coins buried in three archaeological artefacts from three UK hoards.

The centre’s equipment can scan inside objects – rotating 360 degrees whilst taking thousands of 2D images, which are then used to build detailed 3D images. In the case of the coins, the exceptionally high energy/high resolution combination of the Southampton facilities allows them to be examined in intricate detail without the need for physical excavation or cleaning. For those recently scanned at Southampton, it has been possible to use 3D computer visualisation capabilities to read inscriptions and identify depictions of emperors on the faces of the coins – for example on some, the heads of Claudius II and Tetricus I have been revealed.

University of Southampton archaeologist, Dr Graeme Earl says, “Excavating and cleaning just a single coin can take hours or even days, but this technology gives us the opportunity to examine and identify them quickly and without the need for conservation treatment at this stage. It also has potential for examining many other archaeological objects.

“The University’s Archaeological Computing Research Group can then take this one step further – producing accurate, high resolution CGI visualisations based on scan data. This gives archaeologists and conservators around the world the opportunity to virtually examine, excavate and ‘clean’ objects.”

Dr Roger Bland, Head of Portable Antiquities and Treasure at the British Museum comments, “This scanning technique is already yielding some fascinating results and the possibility of identifying a hoard of coins in a pot, without removing them, is very exciting. Working with archaeologists and engineers at Southampton, it is exciting to be pioneering and exploring the potential of a process which is faster, cheaper and less interventive than excavation.”

The three objects examined at Southampton are:

• A cremation urn containing nine coins, dating from AD282, found in the Cotswolds. This item in particular would take months to excavate – with archaeologists needing to carefully examine bone fragments and remains to extract more information about its past.

• An estimated 30,000 Roman coins discovered in Bath, dating to around AD270 and concreted together in a large block weighing over 100 kilograms
(radiograph image only).

• A small pot dating to the 2nd century found in the Selby area of East Riding in Yorkshire.

There’s also a link to this video, which shows the Selby material imaging:

Coincidentally, perhaps, earlier this week we were getting the protoclassicist in the family oriented down the 401 at Queen’s University, and while he and his mom were doing the tour of residences (with him excited and mom disgusted, of course), I wandered up to my old stomping grounds in Watson Hall to see if anyone was around. They weren’t, but I did notice a couple of important things. First, the departmental coffee lounge was rather smaller (and cleaner) than I remember it, and second, it was nice to see that some of the Queen’s people’s posters from conference poster sessions were adorning the walls (I think I’ve mentioned I’m a big fan of such things). Anyhoo, one of those posters was by Kate Sullivan, who appears to have just graduated from the Art Conservation program at Queen’s (which has ties to Classics, natch) and the subject of her poster was Comparing X-ray Computed Tomography Images of Corroded Coins with the Results from Traditional Cleaning … I made a note of the name and was very surprised when I got home to find this Southampton thing (on pretty much the same technology) in my box. Even better, though, I managed to find Kate Sullivan’s poster on the web as a pdf  … (more of these please!).

Roman Sarcophagus from the Sea ~ Followup

I know … I know … I just blogged about it a couple hours ago, but Tom Elliott and I have been trying to figure out how they get a connection to Justinianopolis (and we still haven’t come up with an association), but while I was poking around, I happened upon some touristy page which includes some photos (which seem to be a couple years old) from the Antalya Museum, including this one (there doesn’t seem to be a better quality one):

Tüm Hakları Saklıdır.Antalya Müzesi

Compare that with the thing they hauled out of the sea:

via hurrieyet Daily News

Probably just a coincidence, but those a pretty close to being identical. The only difference (it seems to me, from grotty photos) is on the corners and the base of the new one isn’t quite elaborate. Very interesting …

Artemis from Parion

Another one from Hurriyet:

A sculpture depicting the goddess Artemis and estimated to be about 1800 years old has been discovered at an excavation site at the ancient city of Parion, near the village of Kemer in the Biga district of the northwestern province of Çannakale.

The excavation is being conducted by Professor Cevat Başaran, an instructor in the archaeology department at Erzurum’s Atatürk University, and is being carried out in six zones of the ancient city.
The marble sculpture was dug out in pieces at Odeion, one of the six excavation sites. Başaran, the head of the excavation, has announced that the sculpture depicts a clothed woman, is 1.70 cm tall and approximately 1,800 years old, and is a high quality sculpture of its kind. The excavators also found marble sculptures depicting animals including sheep and dogs.

“The bow and arrow in her hand indicates that the sculpture belongs to Artemis [Diana], the goddess of hunting, the wilderness and wild animals,” Başaran said.

I’m not sure whether the photo which accompanies the Sabah version of this story is the statue in question. Other than that, some Turkish coverage I came across has some photos of other finds made this season, but the text (via Google translate, of course) doesn’t really add anything. The last time we blogged about the dig at Parion was a couple of years ago, when they were excavating a necropolis and found a sarcophagus containing what was dubbed the Parion Princess … this find seems to be from the same necropolis.

Roman Sarcophagus from the Sea

Here’s one that’s been in my box for a while, and there haven’t been any followups, alas … from Hurriyet:

A sarcophagus covered with figures depicting Eros and Medusa and believed to date from the Roman period has been found in the sea near the location of the ancient city of Justinianopolis, in the southern province of Antalya’s Alanya district.

The sarcophagus was retrieved from the water after a six-hour effort and has been delivered to the Alanya Museum Directorate.

Diving school trainer Hakan Güleç spotted an object covered with sand and rocks while diving 20 days ago. When trying to move the object, he saw the figures on it and photographed them. He showed the photos to Alanya Museum officials, and after examining them, they decided to exhibit it. The sarcophagus is estimated to date from the second or third century A.D.

Bodrum Underwater Archaeology Museum Director Yaşar Yıldız and archaeologists cleared sand and debris from the sarcophagus for six hours, and it was lifted out of the water with the help of a crane. Tourists took photos of the sarcophagus while the work was going on.

“The Alanya Museum has gained a new piece of art. The figures on it show that it dates from the Roman period,” Yıldız said.

The original article has a photo-from-a-distance which really isn’t useful for establishing what scene is depicted on it, although you can see one (or two?) Medusas. In the coverage for the Art Newspaper, Yildiz is quoted as speculating it was made up the coast at Aphrodisias.

What I’d like to have seen is some further speculation as to how it got where it did. Even with six hours of cleaning, it seems awfully clean for something made of marble that has supposedly been in the sea for a couple of thousand years, no? Is there a shipwreck around it? Were other things found in association with it? Or (as I note that someone commenting on the Art Newspaper’s coverage has also suggested) is this probably something that was being smuggled somewhere and dumped overboard for whatever reasons?

Nice of them to mention Justinianopolis, though …

Classical Words of the Day

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