Statue of Demeter Found/Recovered

Brief item from Greek Reporter:

A statue, believed to be the ancient Greek goddess Demeter, has been unearthed at an illegal excavation in Simav, western Turkey. The statue, weighing in at 610kg and standing 2.8 meters tall, was discovered by two Turks, Ramazan C. And Ismail G, 26 and 62 years old respectively, who are alleged to have been conducting illegal excavations in the wider area where the statue was found. The two men were taken into custody by the Turkish police and sent to court.

The head of the statue and the altar, missing during the raid, were later found in a house in the city centre.

In Greek mythology, Demeter, one of Zeus’ sisters, so the story goes, was the goddess of agriculture, nature, abundance and seasons, and mother of Persephone, wife of Hades.

The original article is accompanied by a photo of a statue; it isn’t clear whether this is the statue they found or not …

The “Apollo” of Gaza ~ Part II: Questions of Condition and Authenticity

In case you missed our previous installments:

In our previous installment(s) on the so-called “Apollo” of Gaza, we primarily questioned the apparently ever-developing story of the find as told by the fisherman of many names as reported by various news outlets. Now it is time to look at the statue itself and see if it’s possible, from the information we have been given, to discern whether this thing is a genuine antiquity or a fake.

At the outset, though, we should deal with another question related to provenance, specifically whether it was actually found in the sea or not. Despite the engaging story told by the fisherman, opinions on this seem to be divided. Our first opinion comes from the oft-quoted Jean-Michel de Tarragon of the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem, who seems to be one of the few academics consulted on the issue by the press:

The apparently pristine condition of the god suggested it was uncovered on land and not in the sea, he said, speculating that the true location of where it was unearthed was not revealed to avoid arguments over ownership.

“This wasn’t found on the seashore or in the sea … it is very clean. No, it was [found] inland and dry,” he said, adding that there were no signs of metal disfigurement or barnacles that one normally sees on items plucked from water.

An archaeologist from Gaza, Fadel al-Utol, agrees:

Young Gaza archeologist Fadel al-Utol said the statue, with its green patina, was unlikely to have come from beneath the waves.

“It is 90 percent intact and was probably found on land,” he told AFP. “If it had spent time underwater, the bronze would be blackened.”

“It’s more likely that the statue was found in an ancient temple in the Gaza area. We need to search and find out,” he said.

Utol said statues of such a size are rare, although a smaller example is held by the Louvre in Paris.

The Tourism Ministry folks are totally buying into the found-in-the-sea story (which can be spun in numerous ways, depending on how conspiracy-minded one is):

“We are not denying that the statue was found in the sea — as a matter of fact, that is a very authentic and real story,” Al-Burch said.

Jawdat Khoudary, who was one of the first ‘knowledgeable’ folks to observe the statue provides an interesting argument for it being found in the sea:

There’s no doubt the statue came from the sea, Khoudary says. Sitting in the lobby of his hotel on a December evening, he wraps his portly frame in a wool robe and warms his neck with a black-and-white keffiyeh, the emblem of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. In his left hand he works a silver coin purchased minutes earlier from two beachcombing treasure hunters. One side of the coin, encrusted with black sand, bears the outline of a face. Khoudary says it’s Alexander the Great, who conquered Gaza in 332 B.C. en route to taking Egypt.

Khoudary lays out his grim reasoning as the lights go off and on, a result of Gaza’s fuel shortage. “I know how they excavate in Gaza, it’s by shoveling,” he says, making the motions of a mechanical backhoe with his hand. In his collection’s catalog, an entry for clay wine jars even lists “bulldozer trenches” as the method of discovery. Clandestine hunters usually dig until they hit something, a process that’s speedy but damages the finds. In the case of the bronze, however, “It’s not damaged,” he says. “It’s 100 percent from the sea.”

Not sure if we need to (cynically?) point out that the same logic could be used to suggest that the statue was never underground in the first place (i.e. It’s a fake).

The second ‘knowledgeable’ observer Bauzou disagreed, however (I’m still not sure of Bauzou’s first name):

Neither Humbert nor Bauzou believes Ghurab discovered the bronze underwater. “It does not come from the sea. It’s obvious,” Bauzou says. The giveaway, they say, is the lack of any sea encrustation or damage from hundreds of years underwater. Instead, they suspect the bronze came from a clandestine excavation somewhere on land. “This story has been fabricated to hide the real place where the statue was found so they can continue digging.”

To its credit, the lengthy Businessweek article (referenced above, of course) does try to weigh the apparent evidence for it not being found in the sea somewhat objectively:

It’s possible the fisherman’s story is an elaborate hoax. It is true the Apollo isn’t encrusted with barnacles, but not all submerged bronzes get crusty. Photos of the 1996 Croatian find and the 1964 Getty bronze show thick layers of sea growth, but the Riace bronzes from 1972 appear to have come ashore with skin as smooth as that of the Gaza bronze. It might be no coincidence they were found under similar conditions: in shallow water, partly buried in sand, by a swimmer.

With that in mind, it is useful to compare (as others have done, most notably Sam Hardy: the Apollo of Gaza: less innocent origins, equally problematic destinations) the find condition of those other statues which were plucked from the sea to get an idea of what we might expect to observe.

Here’s the Croatian Athlete at the time of discovery(I have another post mentioning this one in another context … stay tuned; Sam Hardy’s article above has a different photo):

Department of Underwater Archaeology of Croatia, via UNESCO

Department of Underwater Archaeology of Croatia, via UNESCO

… Here’s the Getty’s ‘Victorious Youth”

via the Getty

… Finally, one of the famous photos of one of the Riace Bronzes:

This one was all over the internet a short while ago; this copy comes from oldhistoricalphotos.com

This one was all over the internet a short while ago; this copy comes from oldhistoricalphotos.com

This is possibly an important detail … if the “Apollo” of Gaza did actually come from the sea and came out looking, patina-wise, like the Riace Bronzes, then the frequently-mentioned concerns about its current condition probably are  even more concerning now (given that we haven’t had any news reports of any conservation help actually being given). The CNN coverage of February 15 mysteriously downplayed the deterioration:

A green spot — a sign of decay — has formed on the leg of the statue, which is exposed to the air.

A (single?) green spot? Anyone who has seen any of the photos has seen a statue that seems to be suffering from the early states of ‘bronze disease’ (or something similar), which can be the result of emerging from the sea and being exposed to air, or it can be the result of highly humid conditions (which does appear to be the case in Gaza … check the weather network for today’s humidity there). It’s difficult to tell whether there has been any change as seen from the two previously-mentioned photos (taken perhaps two weeks apart):

A picture taken in Gaza on Sept. 19, 2013 shows a 2,500-year-old bronze statue of the Greek god Apollo discovered by Palestinian fishermen in August (Gaza's Ministry of Tourism/AFP)

A picture taken in Gaza on Sept. 19, 2013 shows a 2,500-year-old bronze
statue of the Greek god Apollo discovered by Palestinian fishermen
in August (Gaza’s Ministry of Tourism/AFP)

ppna

… but it seems noteworthy that the more recent one seems to come from a place which is likely air-conditioned, which would, in theory, slow down the progress of deterioration. Then again, the Businessweek article concluded thusly:

The Apollo is in a Hamas Interior Ministry office, somewhere in Gaza, being kept away from sources of humidity, he says. It is propped up in a corner.

In regards to condition, we should also draw attention to another photo that was making the rounds from the ‘Smurf blanket’ phase:

Rear view of the statue, via the BBC

Rear view of the statue, via the BBC

What’s interesting in this photo is that the back of the statue (including the head)— which was, of course, in contact with the blanket/mattress and not really exposed to air — is largely free from any signs of the green patina. Does this give us an indication of the original condition? Or did moving it on and off the mattress do something to the patina (unlikely).  If it does indicate the original condition,  according to our timeline, all that green patina would have accumulated in less than a month and we can only hope that something more than ‘propping it up in a corner of an office’ is being done about it.

Outside of conservation issues, the statue itself raises a number of questions. A photo from the Palestinian Tourism folks which accompanied the Businessweek article (and appeared elsewhere) seems to touch on many of them:

Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquitiesvia Businessweek, but it is also available elsewhere

Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities via Businessweek, but it is also available elsewhere

A major item that has been bugging me from the outset is the reported weight of this thing: 450 kg/1000 pounds. Why does it weigh so much? Although it is roughly the same size (possibly a bit smaller), it is almost double what each of the Riace Bronzes weighs, and if it is the actual weight, it probably suggests a rather massive core, which certainly wouldn’t be in line with traditional statue construction methods of the time (as far as I’m aware).

The graphic marvels that the feet are intact, but what seems to be more interesting is that they are not only intact, but are attached to their original base. I’m sure someone can correct me on this, but finding bronzes of this size still attached to their base is pretty rare. I’d be very interested to know whether the base was cast with the feet or whether it was later attached.

Two other items on the graphic raise other questions. We are told that three fingers are missing — we know the fisherman had one, his “cousin” (or jeweller) had one too. How did the third go missing? And what happened to the thumb? We also wonder about the eye and are unsure whether it was always missing or was gouged out/fell out later (more on the surviving eye in a bit). In one of the news reports, it “sounds” like it was something that happened later, but that might be just one of those things that comes during the translation of an interview:

Ahmed Elburch, an official at the Hamas-run Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in Gaza, says he last saw the statue in October. He was concerned about its condition, he says, as the colour appeared to be changing, and one of the eyes had been cut out.

That said, over the past few weeks a number of us (namely, Sam Hardy, Vernon Silver, Justin Walsh, and myself) have engaged in an on-again, off-again discussion of the statue on Twitter and much of what follows is the result of those discussions. Stylistically, as several, including Sam Hardy have noted the head of the statue seems to have great affinities with a head from Herculaneum, which includes the very interesting ‘dreadlocks’ hair treatment, although they seem a bit more ‘orderly’ along the brow (the photo, by the way, comes from an article by Carol Mattusch on early bronze statuary which is definitely an appropriate read for this: Changing Approaches to Classical Bronze Statuary)

via INAH ... in the above-referenced article

via INAH … in the above-referenced article

The twisty curls also appear in another head from Herculaneum, albeit flatter and in a clearly non-Apolline context (as Vernon Silver reminded me). Here’s Ptolemy Apion in the Naples Museum:

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons

In passing, we should note that the condition of the ‘free’ curls on the Gaza example is probably one of the best bits of evidence that the fisherman’s story of the recovery of the statue (by the ‘cartwheel technique’) is less-than-truthful. I have a very difficult time believing that those curls would have survived recovery according to his description.

As long as we’re looking at the head, I’m wondering if I’m the only one who finds the face of the statue to be somewhat strange. In some of the photos, depending on the angle, it does seem to be a reasonable ‘Greek’ visage, but in others (especially straight on) it does not and is certainly not the ‘idealizing’ sort of thing one might expect. The aforementioned ‘bronze disease’ also has almost ‘outlined’ a certain part of the face, which makes it look like it was somehow attached to a faceless head. I’m honestly not sure if that is the case or if that’s just an illusion caused by the deterioration, but clearly it would be an oddity. Indeed, when I first saw the outline, it struck me that this looked more like the face of a Roman cavalry mask than anything else. Here are the “headshots” from the BBC:

via the BBC Magazine

via the BBC Magazine

Also worth noting about the head is that it really isn’t unusual that a bronze might have lost its inlaid eyes (which were usually made from glass paste or other materials). What is interesting here, however, is the one eye that remains in the head is apparently blue and made from some sort of stone (maybe; not sure if a trained ‘eye’ determined that or not).

The pose of the statue is one which comes close to many statue styled an “Apollo” or “Kouros” or “Ephebe” but the closest analog seems to be the so-called ephebe of Selinunte, now in the Palermo Museum (tip of the pileus to Justin Walsh and Adrian Murdoch for helping me track this one down, there’s a huge version of the photo if you click on it):

via trapani tourism

via trapani tourism

The Ephebe from the ‘House of the Ephebe” in Pompeii also seems to have affinities both in terms of height and pose, sort of (and we might wonder if the Gaza statue carried something in its now largely broken left hand, but seems to be the product of a more-talented artist:

via the Getty

via the Getty

Another stylistic analog, but again the product of a better artist, would be the somewhat smaller (1.15 m) Piombino Kouros, originally from Etruria but now in the Louvre (this is a cast from Cambridge’s archive):

from the Cambridge Casts Archive

Perhaps related to this notion that the Gaza “Apollo” is the product of a less-talented artist is an observation which came up just last week: a photo which clearly shows a square hole on the back of one of the legs or upper arms (Sam Hardy has recently dealt with the confusion many of us had trying to figure out where this ‘hole’ is: Is it an arm? Is it a leg? What the hell is that hole?). Similar squares on other ancient bronzes usually indicate the site of a repair done in ancient times. Depending on where it is, however, it might also indicate where a statue attached to something else for stability purposes. If it is on the upper arm, it seems to be a patch. If it’s on a leg, it could be a patch or an attachment spot. Until some genuine conservationist/art historian gets an in-person look at the statue, I doubt we’ll know for sure.

I’m also not sure how much should/can be read into the above observations (I can’t really call them evidence) that all of the analogs for the Gaza “Apollo” seem to come from southern Italy/Sicily. As far as I’m aware, most of the bronzes which have survived to this point come from that part of the world. At the same time, Herculaneum for a long time was the site of numerous thefts, including a spectacular break in in the early 1990s, although no large scale statuary seems to have gone missing in that one (tip o’ the pileus to Dorothy King for help with that reference). Whatever the case, it’s obviously highly improbable that a statue might have been taken from southern Italy to Gaza to create a provenance, and then suddenly be subject to deterioration.

Which brings us to the bigger question: is the Gaza “Apollo” genuine or is it a clever fake? It’s interesting, I think, to note that the head from Herculaneum and the Piombino Kouros are considered in the category of ‘ancient fakes’ (I.e. Fakes/replicas made in antiquity to appeal to a contemporary market). Even so, I keep hemming and hawing on this issue and I still can’t come down firmly on one side or the other. The provenance strikes me (and most critical observers, it appears) as obviously manufactured. The weight, the face, and the survival of the base of the statue also combine to lead me to think there’s something very much amiss with this one. I’m still not too sure about the hair treatment either. Why Hamas (or whoever is in possession of it) is not giving scholars access to it to do some basic conservation and examination is puzzling and doesn’t lend any confidence to claims of authenticity. Despite all those considerations, it still seems possible that it is genuine and perhaps an archaizing sort of thing like the head from Herculaneum or possibly simply the product of a crappy artist. The whole situation is clearly being mishandled and I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t hear anything more about this one for a year or two, if at all.

Recent Finds from Sardis

From a UWisconsin-Madison press release:

A ritual deposit, found intact beneath a first century Roman house in Sardis. The deposit, found inside two bowls, includes a number of small implements, a unique coin and an egg. The hole in the egg was made in antiquity.

By any measure, the ancient city of Sardis — home of the fabled King Croesus, a name synonymous with gold and vast wealth, and the city where coinage was invented — is an archaeological wonder.

The ruins of Sardis, in what is now Turkey, have been a rich source of knowledge about classical antiquity from the 7th century B.C., when the city was the capital of Lydia, through later Greek and Roman occupations.

Scholars digging at Sardis, the capital of ancient Lydia later occupied by Greeks and Romans. Sardis, in modern Turkey, was the fabled home of King Croesus, the richest man of his day, according to lore.

Now, however, Sardis has given up another treasure in the form of two enigmatic ritual deposits, which are proving more difficult to fathom than the coins for which the city was famous.

“The two deposits each consist of a small pot with a lid, a coin, a group of sharp metal implements and an egg, one of which is intact except for a hole carefully punched in it in antiquity,” explains Will Bruce, a classics graduate student a the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has been digging at Sardis for the past six years. Bruce made the finds last summer.

The dig at Sardis is overseen by Nicholas Cahill , a UW-Madison professor of art history . Cahill has directed field research at Sardis for decades. Both ritual deposits, says Cahill, date from the Roman era of Sardis, about A.D. 70 or 80.

An inverted bowl, covering another bowl with a ritual deposit, emerges from the earth. The bowls contained a ritual deposit of a coin, small metal implements and an egg.

Bruce and his team were excavating below the floor of a first century room, built over the ruins of an earlier building, which had probably been destroyed in a massive earthquake in A.D. 17.

Digging beneath the floor, Bruce and his colleagues first uncovered a thin-walled, nearly intact jug and, nearby, an assemblage of mostly unbroken pottery. “It looked like we were reaching a more intact deposit instead of fill,” says Bruce.

Within that assemblage, Bruce began to carefully uncover an inverted bowl, which turned out to be sitting on top of another bowl. The bowls, still filled with dirt, were carefully removed and immediately turned over to conservators who cleaned and dissembled them to find a set of small pointed instruments, a coin with a lion and portrait of Nero, and the intact egg.

Graduate student Will Bruce excavates a coin horde at Sardis, which was the home of King Croesus, a name synonymous in myth and history with gold and wealth.

“The ritual offerings were dug into pits in the floor, after the room was constructed,” says Cahill. “We know they were renovating the room periodically, because in another part of the space there was a dump of painted wall plaster buried under the floor, presumably in a renovation.”

“The meaning of these deposits is still quite open to interpretation,” notes Cahill, “but burying votive deposits below ground or in a wall was a fairly common practice,” perhaps as a ritual offering to protect the house. Roman literary sources suggest eggs were used in particular rituals.

For the archaeologists, part of the intrigue is that similar groups of bowls, needles, coins and eggs were discovered at Sardis more than 100 years ago when the temple of Artemis was excavated by Princeton University archaeologists. “It is an exact parallel to what they found in the early 20th century,” according to Cahill.

A gold coin found at Sardis. Another coin, bearing the likeness of Emporer Nero, was also found.

The coin was also unique. Sardis is famous as the place where coinage was invented in the Western world, first using electrum, an alloy of silver and gold, and later of pure gold and silver. Nearby sources of gold made ancient Lydia, and King Croesus, fabulously wealthy. While these Lydian coins are very rare, coins and coin hoards from later Greek and Roman occupiers of Sardis are routinely found.

But the coin found with the egg, says Cahill, seems to be special.

“The coin has a portrait of Nero on the front. The original reverse was hammered flat, and the image of a lion engraved in its place, which is very odd.” Expert numismatists have never seen anything like it. “The image of the lion is important because it is emblematic of the Lydian kings and of their native mother goddess Cybele,” Cahill says.

The discovery is unusual, Cahill notes, because finding ritualistic objects intact and in place after thousands of years is no everyday discovery, even in a rich archaeological context such as Sardis. “Ancient ritual was important to people. It is most unusual to find such fragile things so perfectly preserved.”

… the original article has several good photos.

(More) Evidence of Human Sacrifice from Crete?

Another one from ANSA:

A new discovery made during archaeological digs on the Greek island of Crete confirms the hypothesis, already advanced in the past, that over 3,000 years ago human beings, and not only animals, were sacrificed to local gods.

The site in which the artefacts were discovered is on the hill of Castelli near Splazia, in the area of the city of Chania, the second city of Crete on the north-western part of the island, built in 1252 at the order of the 44th Doge of Venice Marino Morosini over the ancient city of Cydonia.

The excavations led to the discovery of many tombs and ceramic vases from the Mycenaean period, buildings similar to Mycenaean palaces, frescoes from the Minoan era, fragments of a vase with linear B writing used in Mycenaean language, Roman statues, fragments of mosaics from Hellenic and Christian eras and animal and human bones including the skull of a young woman allegedly dating back to 1280 BC which would prove that humans were also sacrificed 3,000 years ago during religious rites, and not just animals.

The bones were discovered in the corner of a court outside which, according to the evidence found, was beside the royal palace of the city of Cydonia built like buildings from the Mycenaean period between 1375 and 1200 BC.

‘Under the stones placed in an ordered way we found what we expected: the skull of a young woman, not in one piece, amid animal skulls. It was broken, just like the others, with a strong blow to the forehead’, said archaeologist Maria Andreadakis-Vlazakis, director of antiquities and cultural heritage at the Greek culture ministry, who directs excavation work.

The artifacts show that an important settlement that would gradually become the city of Cydonia was already in the area in the Neolithic period, the researcher said at a conference on ‘Chania’ in the Minoan era’ held at the headquarters of Greece’s Association of archaeologists.

‘We believe the woman was killed during a human sacrifice and not of animals’, said Andreadakis, referring to the skull found. ‘We have not yet drawn the final conclusions, we need to study the bones much more closely. By the month of October however we will be ready to present the results at the international archaeology congress in Milan on the theme of human sacrifices in ancient history. The findings from excavations in Chania’ will be the main topic of the congress’.

Excavation work, involving the 25th Superintendency of classic antiquities in cooperation with the Swedish and Danish archeological institutes, have been ongoing since 2005 and the most important artifacts were discovered in 2012.

‘The presence of the human skull must not surprise us as Greek mythology is full of stories of sacrifices of virgins in an attempt made by society to ingratiate gods and confront great disasters’, said Andreadakis.

Now despite tales of the Minotaur, and the like, scholars of our generation(s) have tended to be skeptical of claims of human sacrifice among the Greeks, especially the folks on Crete. I don’t think we have a scholarly consensus yet, but folks might want to peruse news reports from the past which mention other finds which might make you go hmmmmm:

From 1979 from Heraklion (this is the work/find of Ioannis Sakellerakis)

From back in 1980 near Heraklion (clearly the same site; more details):

And on the mainland, we’ve heard of possible human sacrifice at Mt Lykaion:

Roman Necropolis Near Venice

I’ll keep my eye open for some more details on this one … from ANSA:

The largest, best-preserved ancient Roman funerary complex found in Italy since the 19th century has been discovered at an archeological dig 70 km northeast of Venice, researchers announced Friday.

An imposing monument from the third century AD was located outside the ancient walls of what was once the Roman colony of Iulia Concordia, now in the town of Concordia Sagittaria.

The site was likened to a “little, flood-plain Pompeii” in a guided tour at the restoration site in Gruaro, Veneto. Just as Pompeii was buried by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, a natural disaster wiped out and preserved sarcophagi in Iulia Concordia.

Floods swept detritus and sediment across the area in the fifth century AD, rendering the ancient structures inaccessible and invisible for 1500 years.

The complex includes a podium nearly two metres tall and six metres long with the remains of two elegant sarcophagi on top, two others nearby, and the base of a third.

The remains of a necropolis from the the late first century B.C. was also found.

The excavation is financed by the Region of Veneto with European Union funds under the direction of the Veneto Superintendency for Archeological Heritage.

via: ‘Little Pompeii’ found 70 km northeast of Venice

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A New Sapphic Poem ~ Wading into the Morass

In case you haven’t heard, Dirk Obbink has recently announced the discovery/publication of two ‘new’ poems by Sappho and they’re causing quite the flurry of activity on blogospheres (as you may have already seen), twitterspheres (ditto), and no doubt, in private emails and departmental coffee lounges around the world. But first, a taste of the media coverage, from Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian:

Sappho is one of the most elusive and mysterious – as well as best-loved – of ancient Greek poets. Only one of her poems, out of a reputed total of nine volumes’ worth, survives absolutely intact. Otherwise, she is known by fragments and shards of lines – and still adored for her delicate outpourings of love, longing and desire.

But now, two hitherto unknown works by the seventh-century lyricist of Lesbos have been discovered. One is a substantially complete work about her brothers; another, an extremely fragmentary piece apparently about unrequited love.

The poems came to light when an anonymous private collector in London showed a piece of papyrus fragment to Dr Dirk Obbink, a papyrologist at Oxford University.

According to Obbink, in an article to be published this spring, the poems, preserved on what is probably third-century AD papyrus, are “indubitably” by Sappho.

Not only do elements of the longer poem link up with fragments already known to be by her, but the metre and dialect in which the poems are written point to Sappho.

The clincher is a reference to her brother, Charaxos – whose very existence has long been doubted, since he is mentioned nowhere in previously discovered fragments of Sappho.

However, Herodotus, the fifth-century BC historian, named the brother when describing a poem by Sappho that recounts the tale of a love affair between Charaxos and a slave in Egypt.

In this poem – though it is not the precise one that Herodotus mentions – the writer addresses her audience, seeming to berate them for taking Charaxos’s return by ship from a trading trip for granted.

Pray to Hera, says the narrator, “so that Charaxos may return here, with his ship intact; for the rest let us leave it all to the gods, for often calm quickly follows a great storm”.

The poem goes on to say that those whom Zeus chooses to save from great storms are truly blessed and “lucky without compare”. The poem ends with the hope that another brother, Larichos, might become a man – “freeing us from much anxiety”.

According to Tim Whitmarsh, a professor of ancient literature at Oxford University, the poem could be read as a play on Homer’s Odyssey, and the idea of Penelope waiting patiently at home for the return of Odysseus. Sappho frequently reworked Homeric themes in her poems.

Sappho, who was born in about 630BC, is known for her lyric verse of longing, often directed at women and girls – the bittersweet feeling of love, impossible-to-fulfil desire and the sensation of jealousy when you see the object of your obsession across the room, talking intimately with someone else.

She was admired in antiquity for her delicate, passionate verses. The only evidence for her biography comes from within her poems – and the naming of her brothers, Charaxos and Larichos, adds substantially to a sketchy knowledge of the poet’s life.

Sappho’s poems, which were lost from the manuscript tradition and were not collated and copied by medieval monks as were so many surviving ancient texts, have been preserved by two main means: either through quotation by other authors (often as examples of particular syntactical points by ancient grammarians) or through the discovery of fragments written on ancient papyrus. There is hope yet for more poems to come to light, preserved in the Egyptian sands.

Obbink’s article, with a transcription of the original poems, is to be published in the journal Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik.

The Guardian also links to a translation of one of the poems by Tim Whitmarsh: Read Sappho’s ‘new’ poem

Slate offers translations of both poems by Thomas H. Buck: Read Two Newly Discovered Sappho Poems in English for the First Time

Tom Payne offers a verse translation in the Telegraph:A new Sappho poem is more exciting than a new David Bowie album

There is no doubt that the discovery is significant, and assorted Classicists are quoted in the media saying as much. E.g., Harvard’s Albert Heinrichs in the Daily Beast:

[...]“The new Sappho is absolutely breath-taking,” said Albert Henrichs, a Harvard classics professor who examined the papyrus with Dr. Obbink. “It is the best preserved Sappho papyrus in existence, with just a few letters that had to be restored in the first poem, and not a single word that is in doubt. Its content is equally exciting.” One of the two recovered poems, Prof. Henrichs notes, speaks of a “Charaxos” and a “Larichos,” the names assigned by ancient sources to two of Sappho’s brothers but never before found in Sappho’s own writings. It has as a result been labeled the Brothers poem by Prof. Obbink.

“There will be endless discussion about Charaxos and Larichos, who may or may not be Sappho’s brothers,” Prof. Henrichs commented. One important point in that debate will be the Brothers poem’s clear implication that Charaxos was a sea-going trader. The historian Herodotus, writing about two centuries after Sappho, also describes Charaxos as a wayfarer—a man who traveled to Egypt, where he spent a fortune to buy the freedom of Rhodopis, a beautiful slave he had fallen in love with. Upon his return home, Herodotus relates, Sappho brutally mocked her brother’s lovestruck folly in one of her poems.[...]

Darmouth’s Margaret Williamson told NPR:

[...]In an email to NPR, Margaret Williamson, a classics expert at Dartmouth College and the author of Sappho’s Immortal Daughters, agreed: “I don’t see much room for doubt that these are fragments of Sappho poems. They certainly sound very like her: they’re in the right meter and the right dialect, and they are prayer-hymns of a kind she often wrote, addressed to Hera and Aphrodite, goddesses worshipped on Lesbos whom she appeals to in other poems.”

Williamson added that the first poem, which mentions Sappho’s brothers, is especially remarkable. “It’s very exciting to have a new Sappho poem that isn’t about erotic love or beauty,” she writes. “Here, for a change, is a poem that seems to refer to other relationships. … We’ve had far fewer poems of this type up till now, and as a result it’s been too easy to interpret her poems as the lone cry of a woman in love, rather than looking at the cultural context these quite sophisticated poems grew out of.” [...]

That said, and in light of what we’ll be presenting below, it’s useful to compare a similar discovery a decade ago which we dutifully reported on: New Sappho!. In that article (the TLS links are now dead, alas), one has a nice description of how another fragment was found in an existing collection:

[...] A recent find enables us to raise this number to four. In 2004, Michael Gronewald and
Robert Daniel announced the identification of a papyrus in the University of Cologne as part of a roll containing poems of Sappho. This text, recovered from Egyptian mummy cartonnage, is the earliest manuscript of her work so far known. It was copied early in the third century bc, not much more than 300 years after she wrote.[...]

We should also note that Issue 4 of the online Classics@ was devoted to all sorts of papers relating to that 2004 discovery and is probably also worth (re)visiting.

As mentioned in the Guardian piece above, Dr Obbink will be officially publishing the find in a forthcoming issue of ZPE, but it should be noted that in the initial days of the announcement, a draft version of the article was available on the web. It was taken down somewhat quickly — which possibly/probably led to some scholarly suspicion. I’m not sure if anyone has mentioned it did show up at Scribd subsequently (I can’t vouch for the veracity of that link; it is blocked at my school).

That pretty much wraps up what the world ‘outside the Classics community’ is reading. Inside Classics circles, there is a growing drumbeat in regards to the provenance of the fragments and it’s not unfounded. While most of the media coverage just mentions ‘a private collection’, Bettany Hughes in the Times opened her version thusly:

It is the bolt from the blue that every historian dreams of. Professor Dirk Obbink was minding his own business recently in Oxford when he took an anonymous phone call. The elderly gentleman on the end of the line had material from an ancient Egyptian burial in his possession. He’d noticed that scraps of the cartonnage (the Egyptian equivalent of papier-mâché, made of recycled papyrus) bore the ghostly imprint of writing. Might these words, the stranger wondered, be of any interest?

Professor Obbink, one of the world’s leading papyrologists, thought they might. Prising the layers of shredded papyrus apart, he had to hold his breath. Because here — pretty much instantly recognisable — were delicate, fragmentary lines of the elusive ancient Greek poet Sappho. [...]

I should mention that I’ve only read the first couple paragraphs of that piece because, of course, the Times put up a paywall a few years ago. Despite that, many Classics types have — perhaps riffing on the 2004 find — been suggesting a possible Oxyrhynchus origin, but Hughes’ rather prosaic intro does reflect, it seems, what is probably one aspect of the origin. In Obbink’s paper, the official description mentioned:

Occasionally, in places, ink-traces are obscured by spots of adherent material that appears to be light-brown gesso or silt, specs [sic] of which are also to be seen on the back.

… the gesso — if it is there — would strongly suggest we’re dealing with mummy cartonnage. Even so, we don’t get any other clues where this elderly gentleman may have come across this fragment.

That said, I don’t think the sketchy provenance here is on the same level as the sketchy provenance of other recently-found papyri, especially the Gospel of Jesus’ wife (see, e.g., Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Latest) where the provenance story itself is fishy and serves to exacerbate the issues of authenticity. For the record, I am not at all questioning the authenticity of this find; I have major doubts that someone in this day and age is capable of faking a poem, with the proper metre, era-authentic handwriting, etc., that would pass for a bit of Sappho. I do, however, find the lack of details regarding whence it did come rather disturbing beyond the usual reasons one gets when provenance is brought up and sadly, they all reflect badly on Dr Obbink. All we know is that he was approached by some private collector and even the circumstances about that are sketchy. To wit:

  • Under what circumstances was Dr Obbink approached? Why did the anonymous collector ‘choose’ him? Was he looking for a buyer?
  • Given Dr Obbink’s previous work with the Sappho fragment from 2004, was he specifically chosen for some reason? Did the collector know/suspect he had a fragment of Sappho?
  • How were the fragments presented to Dr Obbink? Were they glass mounted in a way that might suggest they came from an old collection? Were they presented in some other way?
  • How did the ‘mummy cartonnage’ idea come up? Was it just from physical examination or did the collector suggest that was the origin?
  • Did the collector give any further details where he had acquired the fragment?
  • If it does come from mummy cartonnage, does the collector have just these fragments or are there a lot more to come? Is Dr Obbink sitting on a number of other fragments? Can we expect semi-regular publications of ‘new’ Sappho chunks in the near future?
  • Where are the fragments now? Does Dr Obbink have them or were they returned to the collector? Are they in a museum or should we expect to see them showing up at Sotheby’s or Christie’s in the near future?

I could probably come up with a pile of more questions, but you can see how just the provenance question is a major issue and reflects badly on how Dr Obbink brought this to the public. For more scholarly reactions in this vein, see the contributions of various other bloggers which I list at the end of this piece.

Even more annoying, perhaps,  in this ongoing issue is the lack of a decent photograph. The Daily Mail and Greek Reporter both include a pinkish/reddish photo, which is identified as one of the fragments in question, but I can’t really match it up to the transcription in Obbink’s draft article. Another photo that’s making the rounds ‘looks’ more reasonable, but is actually from 1922 according to the Daily Mail. (Last photo on the page). [apologies for not including the photos themselves; I seem to be having issues in that regard]. Of course, the fact that the draft article does not include any photos doesn’t help these matters either.

With the foregoing in mind, I think the MAJOR lesson that needs to be be taken from all this at this point is that this Sappho discovery is a great example of how not to use the media to present a major discovery, even if some of that media has Classical training. It is noteworthy, e.g., that there does not seem to have been an official university press release on this one (indeed, the only think I found at Oxford was a link to the Daily Beast coverage). Even the Gospel of Jesus’ wife cadre recognized the importance of this aspect of promulgation. Without an official source ‘close’ to the ‘star’, it is far more likely that subsequent and/or derivative (or derivative of derivative) coverage will only further cloud the issue rather than reveal it. If an official university version is put out, it will inevitably be picked up by some of the ‘big’ press release places (Science Daily, Eurekalert, PhysOrg) which will lead to the item being seen by an even wider audience than the somewhat parochial Classics community which seems to be dealing with it now. Similarly, adequate support material should be made readily available, including the draft of the publication (and not taken down quickly) and adequate photos with transcriptions. The Gospel of Jesus Wife folks actually did all this very well and generated a great deal of discussion about the content of the document, which should, of course, be the focus. They did make some errors in judgement, but the ‘plan’ was carried out well. In the case of the Sappho fragments we have analogous provenance issues, but the lack of other substantive material appears to be preventing any substantial discussion taking place on anything except the provenance. That’s a crying shame for such an obviously important find …

Speaking again of provenance, here’s a smattering of the blogposts worth checking out …

Adrian Murdoch:

Paul Barford:

David Gill:

Judith Weingarten:

Also worth noting is Francesca Tronchin’s ‘Storification’ of the discussion in the Twittersphere:

… and her post:

… I’ll be adding to this list over the next couple of days (I know I’ve left some folks out)

UPDATE (a few hours later): I just realized Dr Tronchin (and others) mention a blog that has been set up to discuss the find. The discussion began with some grammatical and restoration matters, but now has devolved into a discussion of provenance issues … Discussing the New Sappho poems

Temple of Minerva beneath Milan Cathedral?

A brief item from ANSA:

The remains of a pagan temple believed to have been devoted to the goddess Minerva have been found under the Milan Cathedral.

The announcement was made Wednesday during the presentation of other archaeological finds, the remains of the ancient Mediolanum Forum discovered recently under the basement of the building housing the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana and the Biblioteca Ambrosiana.

Archaeological excavations to unearth the remains of the large city that, beginning in 292 A.D., was the capital of the Western Roman Empire for over a century continue despite funding difficulties. So far, part of the floor made out of what is known as ‘Verona stone’ has been found. The base of a section of an arcade can also be seen. The entire forum occupied an estimated surface area of 166 by 55 square meters. While waiting to be able to extend the excavations, the zone has been fitted with a special entrance on the side of the building, walkways, and illustrative signs to make visits by the public possible. The works were conducted with funding from the Cariplo foundation and the Lombardy regional government and are part of the project for a ‘Milan Archaeology’ route being readied for the 2015 Milano Expo, said regional culture councillor Cristina Cappellini.

Il Giorno gives, inter alia, some background to the discovery:

[...] Il Foro di Milano rappresentava la piazza principale della civitas romana, dove si svolgevano le maggiori attivita’ civili e religiose. Sorge alle fondamenta della Pinacoteca milanese, nell’area urbana attualmente compresa tra piazza Pio XI, piazza San Sepolcro e via della Zecca, che ospitava la platea forensis, la sede dei principali edifici pubblici: la Curia (luogo di riunione del Senato locale), la Basilica (in cui era amministrata la giustizia), il Capitolium (il tempio dedicato alla “Triade Capitolina”: Giove, Giunone e Minerva), le tabernae (negozi, botteghe artigiane, luoghi di ristorazione).

La scoperta e’ stata del tutto casuale: i reperti sono venuti alla luce durante i lavori di restauro della Biblioteca Ambrosiana, tra il 1990 e il 1992, rivelando una piccola parte della piazza del Foro. Il nuovo allestimento e’ ora in grado di mostrare una parte della pavimentazione, costituita da lastre di pietra bianca, detta ‘di Verona’ usata a partire dal 1* secolo dopo Cristo. Inoltre, lungo un lato del lastricato si notano un piccolo canale dove scorrevano le acque piovane e i gradini che conducevano alle botteghe e alle osterie. Si vede inoltre la base di un tratto del porticato che lo delimitava sul lato occidentale e dietro al quale si trovavano le ‘tabernae’ (botteghe).[...]

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Head Hunting Romans?

Maev Kennedy writes a very interesting piece in the Guardian which is just beginning to be picked up by other outlets:

Scores of skulls excavated in the heart of London have provided the first gruesome evidence of Roman head hunters operating in Britain, gathering up the heads of executed enemies or fallen gladiators from the nearby amphitheatre, and exposing them for years in open pits.

“It is not a pretty picture,” Rebecca Redfern, from the centre for human bioarchaeology at the museum of London, said. “At least one of the skulls shows evidence of being chewed at by dogs, so it was still fleshed when it was lying in the open.”

“They come from a peculiar area by the Walbrook stream, which was a site for burials and a centre of ritual activity – but also very much in use for more mundane pursuits. We have evidence of lots of shoe making, so you have to think of the cobbler working yards from these open pits, with the dog chewing away – really not nice.”

“We believe that some of the heads may be people who were killed in the amphitheatre. Decapitation was a way of finishing off gladiators, but not everyone who died in the Roman amphitheatre was a gladiator, it was where common criminals were executed, or sometimes for entertainment you’d give two of them swords and have them kill one another. Other heads may have been brought back by soldiers from skirmishes, probably on the Hadrian or Antonine walls – again, it would have taken weeks to bring them back, so not a nice process.”

The 39 skulls were excavated at London Wall almost within sight of the Museum of London in 1988, and deposited at the museum, but the scientists have only recently applied improved forensic techniques to them. Redfern and her colleague Heather Bonney, from the Earth Sciences Department of the Natural History Museum, publish their results for the first time this week in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The tests revealed that almost all the skulls are of adult males – some could not be identified – and most bear scars and slash marks of many wounds inflicted around the time of death. Many also have multiple healed wounds, one with the shattered cheek bone typical of a violent punch in the face, showing their lives were not tranquil. On some there is clear evidence of decapitation with a sword: possibly all were killed in that way, but if the fatal blow was through the neck the proof has vanished with the rest of their bodies.

“Whether they died in the amphitheatre or in battle, decapitation with a sword is a very efficient way of ending a life – somebody very much wanted these people dead,” Redfern said.

The evidence suggests that they were left for years decomposing in the open pits.

“There is none of the fracturing you’d expect if they’d been put on spikes, so it looks as if they were just set down and left – though of course you could have had a nice shelf to display them on.”

There is evidence of head taking from across the Roman empire, including Trajan’s column in Rome which shows clean shaven Roman soldiers presenting bearded barbarian heads as trophies to the emperor. Heads are also shown being held up in triumph on tomb stones of cavalry officers in Britain and elsewhere. Although pits of body parts have been found in Britain, the London skulls, deposited over several decades, are an unprecedented find from the Roman capital.

Hundreds of skulls have been found for centuries along the course of the long vanished Walbrook – most recently by the team working on the new Crossrail station just outside Liverpool Street station.

They have often been interpreted either as washed out of Roman cemeteries, or as victims of Boudicca’s revolution, when the East Anglican leader of the Icenii tribe swept south to London in AD60, torching Roman settlements and towns.

However the work of Redfern and Bonney may force archaeologists to have another look at the skull finds.

The London Wall skulls are far too late for Boudicca: they have been dated to the 2nd century AD, a time of peace, prosperity and expansion for the Roman city.

“These were all young men, very untypical of what we usually find in Roman burials, where we tend to get the very young and the old,” Redfern said.

“Most people in second century London lived peaceful quiet lives – but as we now know, not everyone. This is a glimpse into the very dark side of Roman life.”

Folks who have 35 bucks burning a hole in their pocker might want to check out the original article: Headhunting and amphitheatre combat in Roman London, England: new evidence from the Walbrook Valley (JAS), although most of us will have to be satisfied with the abstract, I’d imagine:

In 1988, the disarticulated human remains of forty Roman individuals were discovered at 52-63 London Wall, London. Examination of the sample using techniques employed by forensic anthropology and entomology found that some of the material had been deposited in open waterlogged pits. The majority of the sample was adult males who had evidence for multiple peri-mortem blunt- and sharp- force injuries; many also had healed injuries, suggesting that violence was a common feature of their life. Despite the fact that this material was recovered from an industrial area in the upper Walbrook valley of London, the evidence for trauma, their context and associated archaeological and environmental evidence reveals that these deposits are markedly different from other published examples of human remains from the Walbrook stream and River Thames, and may represent the remains of headhunting by the Roman army and/or defeated gladiators.

… which makes me wonder if we are actually dealing solely with skulls. Whatever the case, we should probably also mention for comparanda purposes that pile of skulls found during the Crossrails project last October: Possible Pile of Roman Skulls See also the followup bringing up the Boudicca thing again: (Crossrail Roman Skulls Followup.

That said,  my memory also seems to recall an article in either a journal or a festschrift sort of thing (possibly non-Classics specific) called “Romans as Headhunters” vel simm. but I can’t seem to locate it …

UPDATE (an hour or so later): tip o’ the pileus to Peter Kruschwitz on twitter who tweaked my memory of this article which is worth tracking down if you’re interested in Roman ‘headhunting’: Voisin, J-L., “Les Romains chasseurs de têtes” , Du châtiment dans la cité EFR n° 79, 1984

Tantalizing Tunnels From Niksar

Another rather annoying item from Hurriyet:

Two secret tunnels have been discovered under Turkey’s second largest castle, in the northern province of Tokat’s Niksar district. The tunnels date back to the Roman period, and it has been claimed that one of the tunnels was used by a Roman king’s daughters in order to go to the bath in the Çanakçi stream area.

The excavations are being carried out by the municipality in the 6.2 kilometer-wide Niksar Castle, which is Turkey’s second largest castle after Diyarbakır Castle. The tunnels are located in the southern and northern facades of the castle and are approximately 100 meters long.

The earth masses in the tunnels have been removed, but work was subsequently halted as permission for the excavations expired and the number of staff was insufficient.

The 100 meter tunnel in the northern façade is said to have been used by the king’s daughters to reach the Roman bath near the castle. Niksar Mayor Duran Yadigar, who has inspected both tunnels, said works in the castle unearthed the entrance of the tunnels. “One tunnel goes to the stream below the castle. We have also excavated a parallel tunnel used by the king’s daughters. When the works are completed, the two tunnels in the south and north of the Niksar Castle will be completely unearthed. The artistic features of the castle will be revealed,” Yadigar said.

Yadigar added that once these structures are completely revealed, the castle will make a great contribution to cultural tourism in the region. “We expect the Culture and Tourism Ministry to be interested in the Niksar Castle.

A quarter of the castle’s western section has been restored. Once it is completely restored, this place could be included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, and we could present the value of the Black Sea region to the world. I ask the relevant officials to show an interest in these tunnels,” Yadigar said.
Halis Şahin of the Tokat Museum, who provided information about the excavations, said works to reveal the Roman era tunnels would continue throughout the year.

Of course, the “Roman king’s daughters” thing is a bunch of hooey … in Roman times, Niksar was called Neocaesarea and it’s one of those cities that changed ownership several times over several millennia. I’m not sure if the photo accompanying the original article is of one or the other of the tunnels in question, but I see nothing that identifies it as Roman. Curious to know why this is identified as Roman, other than the story makes for good tourist fodder …

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Latest in the Riace Bronzes Saga

Okey dokey … this past week Gazzetta del Sud was telling us:

One of Italy’s best-loved cultural icons, a pair of ancient Greek statues called the Riace Bronzes, is back home in a Calabrian museum after four years lying on their backs in the seat of the regional government. “We are keeping a promise to give all the citizens of the world back one of its greatest treasures,” said Culture Minister Massimo Bray. He said the statues would be back on display in two weeks and that, given their “delicate” condition, the government would probably not try to have them moved to Milan in 2015 for the Expo world’s fair in the northern Italian city that year. Bray vowed to give the Bronzes “all the loving attention they need” to restore them to their full glory after the toll of undignified neglect in a store-room of the government offices in Reggio Calabria, on the other side of the southern Italian city. “Thanks to Bray, the bronzes will soon be back gloriously on display,” said Calabria Archaeological Superintendent Simonetta Bonomi. She hailed the news that the public can start flocking back to admire two of the most stunning works ever recovered from the cultural hotbed created by the ancient Greek civilisation in southern Italy called Magna Graecia (Greater Greece). A bigger, renovated showcase for the glorious warrior figures in Reggio Calabria’s Museum of Magna Graecia is expected to be unveiled early next year. Calabria’s culture chief, Mario Caligiuri, said the opening of the revamped site “could represent our Expo,” referring to the world’s fair in Milan which is expected to give the Italian business capital a significant economic and cultural boost. The statues were moved from the museum at the end of 2009 because the cultural institute badly needed restoration. But the work at the museum became a victim of budget cuts and red tape, leaving the statues out in the cold and spurring a national and international outcry. Leading Italian arts figures got a petition together and United Nations cultural organisation UNESCO branded the affair “a disgrace” in July. This prompted a renewed pledge from local officials this summer. “The situation is finally unblocked and will be remedied” said the managing director of Calabria’s department of cultural heritage, Francesco Prosperetti. “The Region of Calabria has given its fundamental contribution of five million euros, which will be used for building museum displays and completing installation work in the building, which should once more host the Riace Bronzes,” Prosperetti said. “If, as we hope, there aren’t snags or legal hold-ups… inauguration and opening to the public is conceivable…in the first months of next year”, Prosperetti said. Politicians had pressed Bray, since his appointment in April, to take fast action to protect the historically significant and priceless statues. He responded by saying moves would be hastened to get them back in their rightful place “by the first quarter of 2014″. On Friday he said “it turned out that this forecast was actually pessimistic and I am proud to say that these two old friends of ours are now back where they belong even sooner than we hoped”. Calabria takes the Bronzes so seriously that it has repeatedly refused permission for copies of the statues to be made and rejected pleas for Italian promotional events worldwide and for the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa. In a citywide vote in 2003, the people of Reggio Calabria came out overwhelmingly against the “cloning” of the statues, which have been the Calabrian capital’s biggest tourist draw since they were discovered. The bronzes were discovered in 1972 by a Roman holiday-maker scuba diving off the Calabrian coast and turned out to be one of Italy’s most important archaeological finds in the last 100 years. Their’ trip across town to the council site was supposed to be a brief one. When they left the archaeological museum on December 22, 2009, superintendent Bonomi said it was “just for a six-month restoration”. The move was the first time in 28 years that the priceless 2,500-year-old bronzes had left the Museo Nazionale di Reggio Calabria. The only previous occasion they were let out was in 1981, for a triumphant round-Italy tour, which sold out venues in Rome, Florence and Milan The statues are of two virile men, presumably warriors or gods, who possibly held lances and shields at one time. At around two metres, they are larger than life. The ‘older’ man, known as Riace B, wears a helmet, while the ‘younger’ Riace A has nothing covering his rippling hair. Both are naked. Although the statues are cast in bronze, they feature silver lashes and teeth, copper red lips and nipples, and eyes made of ivory, limestone and a glass and amber paste. Italy has the world’s biggest trove of archeological treasures but the Riace Bronzes attracted particular attention. This was partly due to their exceptionally realistic rendering and partly to the general rarity of ancient bronze statues, which tended to be melted down and recycled. Stefano Mariottini, the scuba diver who first spotted one of the statues some 300 meters off the coast and eight metres underwater, said the bronze was so realistic that he initially thought he’d found the remains of a corpse. A million people came to see them at various venues around Italy in 1981 and the pair were featured on a commemorative postage stamp that year. The statues pulled in an average 130,000 visitors a year during their time at the Reggio Calabria museum.

Please forgive my skepto-cynicism on this one, but we’ve been hearing about the impending ‘reappearance’ of this pair for years. You can catch up on the saga from our post from this past July: The Riace Bronzes Saga Continues … I’m also curious whether this work done a couple of years ago will be put into effect: Protecting the Riace Bronzes from Earthquakes

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‘Service Corridors’ from Metropolis

From Hurriyet:

Archaeological excavations in the ancient city of Metropolis, situated in İzmir, revealed a 40-meter corridor, giving clues about life 2,000 years ago.

According to a statement by Sabancı Foundation, which supports the project together with Torbalı Municipality and the Association of Metropolis Lovers (MESEDER), a 40-meter corridor was unearthed during the excavations that have been continuing in the bathing and sports sections of the site.

The brick-vaulted corridors, which had been built parallel to the northern, western and southern walls, were discovered in a well-preserved state, revealing aspects of social life 2,000 years ago.

Archaeologists believe that these kinds of structures were used as service corridors by servants working in Roman baths. Excavations also revealed furnaces built in the same parallel with the pools of the bath.

Associate Professor Serdar Aybek, head of the excavations and the archaeology department of Celal Bayar University, said the finding unearthed from the 6,000 square-meter excavation area was a “surprise.” “It is very exciting that the structures survived to this day in such good condition,” he said.

He said it would be possible to understand all architectural structures of this structure in future excavations, adding they encountered the footprints of a man and a goat in the same excavation area. “When we saw these footprints, we imagined the days when the bath was built or restored. We think the footprints belong to a goat that entered the areas before the structure’s soil mixture dried, and a man ran after it.”

‘Value for Turkey’

The Sabancı Foundation General Director Zerrin Koyunsağan said the historic richness in Metropolis was a significant value for Turkey. She said that every year, they have been surprised with new findings and discoveries in the ancient city of Metropolis, and every finding gave answers about social life 2,000 years ago.

In the meantime, the Metropolis site efforts, which started in 2012, are continuing in parallel with the excavations. A 16,000 square-meter area was surrounded by a fence and the projects for visitor welcome center, view terraces, walking routes and the environmental reorganizations have been finished.

The ancient city of Metropolis is located 40 kilometers away from İzmir and 45 kilometers away from the world-renowned ancient city of Ephesus. The site, which bears traces of the Classical, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods, has been under excavation for 23 years as a part of a project jointly carried out by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

… similar corridors found at Hadrian’s villa were in the news this past summer: Hadrian’s Tunnels at Tivoli

Sveshtari Tomb 2013

The incipit of a brief item from Novinite:

Over the year, Bulgarian archaeologists have made important new discoveries about the Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari, announced archaeologist Prof. Diana Gergova.

Among the most amazing discoveries was the fact that a golden casket discovered last year was placed on a powerful living tree in one of the tombs.

In ancient pagan Europe, strong trees were symbols of life and growth, and links between the terrestrial realm and the realm of gods.

“This mound is really unique compared to the other mounds in the site. Within it, we found new data for animal sacrifices, too,” said Gergova, as quoted by the Focus Radio.

Gergova argued that the important findings in the area mandate the creation of a museum at the site to display some of the items and tell their story. [...]

I believe the casket that is mentioned is the one mentioned in last year’s coverage (which also notes a bit of a media fury):Thracian Gold

Latest from Zeugma

From Hurriyet … as often, lacking some detail:

Researchers working on the ancient city of Zeugma in the southeastern province of Gaziantep have discovered new Roman-era houses, the head of the excavations has said on the occasion of the end of this year’s digging season.

“We see an architectural layer between sixth century B.C. and the second century A.D. We have reached new data about the architecture of the late ancient period,” said Hüseyin Yaman.

Yaman said works started on July 2 this year with a team of 40 people from various universities. “This year we particularly focused on conservation and restoration works,” he added.

Yaman said that Zeugma was very important to Turkey for its rich mosaic findings and that archaeological excavations also contributed to tourism, as well as scientific research.

“Zeugma contributes to tourism thanks to the findings there. Mosaics found here are being displayed at the Zeugma Mosaic Museum [in the center of Gaziantep] and have drawn a significant number of tourists. Also, the mosaics and frescoes in the excavation area are very important for boosting tourism,” he said.

Excavations on the site began in 1987.

via: Digging season ends at Zeugma (Hurriyet)

Roman Child Burial from Hinckley

Definitely an interesting one from the Hinckley Times:

A child’s coffin, believed to date from Roman times, has been unearthed at a field in Witherley.

The lead box, less than 1m long, was found by amateur treasure hunters using metal detectors on Sunday.

Archaeologists exhumed the coffin yesterday (Thursday) and transported it to Warwick for detailed analysis.

It’s the first find of its kind from the Leicestershire-Warwickshire border area – a stretch bordering the A5 known to have been of military significance during the Roman era.

Stuart Palmer, business manager for the appointed experts, Archaeology Warwickshire, said: “Everything points to the coffin being from the Roman era and it is the first lead coffin to be recovered from the area.

“It might be one of the few Roman burials recovered from the Witherley-Mancetter cross border region.

“We know quite a lot about the Roman military activity in that part of Leicestershire and Warwickshire but not a great deal about the indigenous population.

“This coffin might provide us with one of a very few opportunities to examine how those people lived.”

The artefact will undergo months of analysis and a report will highlight findings and recommend what should happen to it next.

Mr Palmer said it would be some time before the coffin was opened and only then in the presence of appropriate experts and in the right environment.

The coffin was found along with Roman and medieval coins by members of Digging Up the Past metal detector group.

Realising the importance of the artefact they alerted the police and kept nightly vigils at the site for fear of looters.

Club spokesman, David Hutchings, said: “As the coffin was found in a ploughed field it was probably only a matter of time before it was accidentally damaged by farm machinery, so it’s almost with a collective sigh of relief that such a significant discovery was made before this could happen and the coffin was lost forever.”

There’s some nice photos of the little lead (?) box in the original article. I’m sure we’ll be reading some followups to this when they open it up …

More coverage from the BBC: ‘Roman child’s coffin’ found in Leicestershire

Massive Corinthian Capital from Kyzikos

Whether it’s the “world’s biggest” as touted in the Hurriyet headline is doubtful, but:

During excavations at the Temple of Kyzikos Hadrian in the northwestern province of Balıkesir’s Erdek district, the world’s biggest Corinthian-style column head was unearthed. The column head dates back to the Roman period.

The head of the excavations and Atatürk University Archaeology Department Associate Professor Nurettin Koçhan said this year’s excavations in the temple had started on Aug. 15 and would end on Oct. 8. He said the excavations were joined by a team of 30 workers as well as university members and students, adding that they were working in the western part of the temple.

He said besides architecturally decorated pieces, the excavations had unearthed the broken piece of human figures, the claw of a very big eagle and the head of a bull in temple friezes (a long narrow band of sculpture that runs along the architrave of temples).

“The Temple of Hadrian, which is equal to Didim’s Apollo and the Ephesus Artemis temples in terms of size, is different from the others with the use of gilt in women figures and red and blue colors in its decoration. Also, the column heads have so far been unearthed in pieces, but this year a column head was found in one piece. The Temple of Hadrian is 116.2 meters long. The other temples are almost the same size but in Hadrian, decorations are red and blue and the hair of the women figures are decorated with gilt.”

Koçhan said what they found this year was different and significant for the world of archaeology. “This is the Corinth column head, which is nearly 20 meters high and one of the three column heads in the temples,” he said.

Biggest temple column

“The world’s biggest temple column head was found in Balıkesir,” Koçhan added, continuing, “With 1.9 calibers and 2.50 meter height, this is biggest and the most elegant Corinth column head made within the borders of the Roman Empire. There is no other one in the Corinth style. When we compare it to the Baalbek Temple of Jupiter in Lebanon, which is regarded as the world’s biggest and the most magnificent Corinth style temple, the Temple of Kyzikos Hadrian comes ahead. This historic column head will make a great contribution to the country’s tourism.”

As often, much seems to be lost in translation with this Hurriyet piece. Here’s a photo of the capital:

DHA photo via Hurriyet

Here’s a closer view from Al Arabiya:

Thera and Iasos

A rather confusing item from Hurriyet:

Archaeologists working on Iasos on Turkey’s Aegean coast have recently discovered that the ancient city was buried under a mountain of ash caused by the explosion of Mt. Thera on Santorini 3,600 years ago.

Excavation works have also revealed a sewage system that was in place in the 4,000-year-old city and tunnels to the city’s theater.

Excavations are being carried out by the world-famous Italian archaeology team of Studi Delle Tuscia University. The head of the excavations, Professor Marcello Spanu, is working with assistant archaeologists Emanuele Borgia and Şevki Bardakçı, Culture and Tourism Ministry official Selvet Karamahmut, 28 other Italian archaeologists, as well as university students who have recently unearthed new historic sites within the ancient city.

Spanu said columns that were found one meter underground provided vital information about the history of the city. “Following the explosion of the volcano Thera, which also caused the destruction of the Minoan civilization on the islands of Crete and Santorini, the ancient city was covered with ash and remained so for a while.

This is why its sewage system and tunnels to the ancient theater did not change. At the end of the excavation and restoration works, for which we spend nearly 100,000 Turkish Liras annually, I am sure that this place will be Turkey’s largest, as well as one of its most important, archeoparks,” Spanu said.

Plans to attract more tourists

But Bardakçı, the deputy head of the excavations and an official from the Mediterranean Civilizations Research Institute, lamented the poor state of the promotion of Iasos, as well as the historic and cultural heritage of the surrounding Kıyıkışlacık village, while noting that they would undertake new endeavors to draw in more visitors.

He said the excavation and restoration works had shed light on historic artifacts across a vast area and succeeded in providing key data about the region’s past.

“As a result of works that will be carried out in the agora, the Artemis and Astias holy area, the Zeus Mefistos area, the mosaic house, the acropolis, the western port castle and the port, which was constructed between 1481 and 1522, the region will become one of the richest ancient cities in terms of cultural heritage. We have prepared the exact location and a digital map of the ancient city with satellite photos. When the project is done, we expect that tourists will rush to the area. As of next year, we will be in negotiations with travel agencies and tour operators to promote Iasos by way of daily boat tours and jeep safaris,” Bardakçı said.

This is why its sewage system and tunnels to the ancient theater did not change. Are they suggesting there was a sewage system and theater at Iasos prior to the eruption of Thera? Or are they trying to suggest the destruction layer of the volcano helps to show that the archaeological remains didn’t ‘change much’?

Crossrail Roman Skulls Followup

Yesterday we had a BBC piece detailing the discovery of a number of possible Roman skulls in the Walbrook River area (Possible Pile of Roman Skulls) but today we see headlines connecting them with Boudicca, alas (dead Romans? must be Boudicca’s fault). Seems a passing remark by one of the archaeologists was given greater focus than he probably wanted: From a Reuters piece:

“This isn’t the first time that skulls have been found in the bed of the River Walbrook and many early historians suggested these people were killed during the Boudicca rebellion against the Romans,” lead archaeologist Jay Carver said.

“We now think the skulls are possibly from a known Roman burial ground about 50 metres up river from our Liverpool Street station worksite.”

… give the journos a name and they’ll take a rebellion. In any event, the Reuters piece is accompanied by a nice little video report:

… the horse jaw might suggest something more ‘Iron Age’ than Roman …

Possible Pile of Roman Skulls

The latest items of possible interest from the Crossrails project … from the BBC:

Archaeologists working with London’s Crossrail project have uncovered 20 skulls believed to be from the Roman period.

It is likely the bones were washed from a nearby burial site along one of London’s “lost” rivers – the Walbrook.

Since the Crossrail project began, about 10,000 Roman items have been discovered .

These latest finds could give new insights into the lives of Roman people.

Near-intact pottery artefacts were also found which probably travelled along the same route as the skulls. Other bone fragments would not have been washed as easily down the river.

Paved over in the 15th Century, the Walbrook river divided the western and eastern parts of the city, its moist muddy walls providing exceptionally good conditions for artefacts to be preserved.

The discoveries were found about 3m below ground and underneath the the Bedlam cemetery, a burial ground where hundreds of skeletons have been unearthed .

Though they have yet to be forensically dated, Nicholas Elsden from the Museum of London Archaeology said they were likely to be from the 3rd to 4th Centuries AD, as that was when Romans buried their citizens as opposed to cremating them.

“It’s relatively unusual to find so many concentrated [in one area] when you’re not in a graveyard. We’re 100 yards outside the Roman city walls.”

Roman law required burial outside the city, explained Mr Elsden, which meant there were burial sites circled around the town.

“What we’re looking at here is how the Romans viewed their dead. You wouldn’t imagine modern burial grounds being allowed to wash out into a river,” he told BBC News.

Don Walker, an osteologist also from the Museum of London Archaeology, said the skulls were probably buried in different environments, shown by their shades of brown and grey.

“Forensic studies show that when the body disintegrates near a watercourse, the skull travels furthest, either because it floats or it can roll along the base of the river.

“They were possibly buried in an area where there wasn’t much land available. At the moment it looks as though they’ve collected together through natural processes.”

From initial observations, Mr Walker said there was no evidence of any “foul play”, but details about their sex and age would only emerge through further investigations.

He added that chemical markers on the teeth could reveal where these people came from and what sorts of food they ate.

Archaeologists believe that the Crossrail Project will lead to further discoveries hidden beneath the streets of London and say it could transform our understanding of Roman London.

Other recent findings include several bodies believed to date from the time of the Black Death and wood thought to be evidence of a 3,500-year-old Bronze Age transport route through London.

Crossrail currently operates over 40 worksites and archaeological investigations are carried out at each site ahead of main construction works to build the central stations.

The project will connect 37 stations from Heathrow Airport and Maidenhead in the west, through central London and out to Abbey Wood and Shenfield in the east and is due to be completed in 2018.

Sourcing Trireme Lumber

From Greek Reporter:

Scientists from Greece and the US believe they are close to tracing the wood from which ancient triremes were made.  The scientists are searching in Pieria (one of the regional units of Greece, located in the southern part of Macedonia, in the Region of Central Macedonia) for the Macedonian fir and the pine tree of Olympus and Pieria, locally known as “liacha.”

According to Aristotle’s successor Theophrastus, this tree was used for the laborious process of constructing paddles and ships. Prints on the earth of this particular kind of wood, which has no knots but great resistance to salt water, were discovered during the archaeological excavations that started in 2003 in Methoni of Pieria.

This fact, after the announcement of the results of the findings at a scientific conference that took place in Thessaloniki in 2011, mobilized scientists from different sectors in Greece, Los Angeles in the USA, Britain and Ireland, who have ever since been working together to discover pure pieces of wood from the 8th century at the excavation site in Methoni that will continue its work in 2014.

“At this moment a big cooperation is in process, which started at the end of 2011 between the 27th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classic Antiquities, which is based in the capital of Pieria, Katerini, the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTH) and the Archaeology Department of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA),” the President of the Philology Department of AUTH, Ioannis Tzifopoulos, explained.

He also explained that on the American side, the Greek-American professor John Papadopoulos, who for many years has led excavations in Toroni of Chalkidiki, in Epirus, as well as in Albania, shows particular interest in the object of the excavations in Methoni of Pieria.

The Golden Beer of Danish … Sussita??

Actually … this is an item about the dig season at Sussita … the inicipit of Ha’aretz’ coverage:

An unexpected discovery awaited a team of Israeli archaeologists in a drainage canal dating from roughly 2,000 years ago: an aluminum bottlecap. From a beer bottle.

No, the good people of ancient Sussita weren’t producing aluminum metal. The meaning of the startling discovery is that millennia after its construction, the drainage canal was still working, centuries after the city’s final destruction by earthquake

Made of aluminum and feather-light, the bottle-cap floated on rainwater that washed into the canal, says Dr. Michael Eisenberg, head of an Israeli archaeological team digging the site.

This canal, or less romantically – a sewer, passed beneath the floor of the public bathhouse being excavated in the city, which the Greeks called Antiochia Hippos. Its end was discovered several hundred meters away by Eisenberg and his team.

The archaeologists believe this remarkably robust sewage system drained effluent from a postulated public toilet near the bathhouse. If the sewer’s upper opening is found, the public toilet will be found as well, Aizenberg postulates.

Happily for historians, the Sussita sewer system contained not only a beer bottlecap but much more. For instance several hundred bronze coins, swollen and rusted from eons of exposure to urine, were also found inside.

Ten dice made of bone found near the coins provided further evidence of the sewer’s function: Eisenberg believes that the city’s inhabitants gambled with dice as they sat in the bathroom. Just as latter-day man accidently drops his phone into the john, thus the people of yore apparently let coins and dice fall into the sewer.

Now these artifacts are helping researchers to learn about the inhabitants’ customs.

Serious about exercise at Sussita

In this last summer digging season, the team unearthed a palaestra — a plaza surrounded by columns, where the city inhabitants exercised and which was part of the bathhouse.

The sewage canal passed beneath the floor of the bathhouse’s small pool, whose location shows the ancients also appreciated a good view: it overlooks the low-lying Sea of Galilee and the city of Tiberias on its western shore.

The pool was tiled with high-quality limestone tiles. Some of its walls were decorated with tiles of limestone and marble, and in other places the pool walls were plastered in bright shades of red. [...]

… only Arutz Sheva seems to have identified the brand of beer (Beer Cap Found Embedded in Archeological Excavation), hence my title.  That said, I’m not sure why we haven’t heard more from this dig:

Sekhmet from the Red Basilica ‘Restored’

From Hurriyet:

An almost nine-meter long lion-headed Egyptian goddess Sekhmet has been revived in the Red Basilica (Kızıl Avlu) in the largest structure of the ancient city of Pergamon in İzmir’s Bergama district, and opened to visits on Sept. 26. The statue has already drawn great interest from tourists in the area.

German Excavation Institute Chairman Ferix Pilson said it would contribute to Bergama’s inclusion in the UNESO Cultural Heritage list in June next year.

The Egyptian statue pieces found during the excavations since 1930 in the Red Basilica are among the most important statues from the Roman Empire. Among them, the lion-headed goddess statue was reconstructed thanks to the support of the Studiosus Foundation. The statue was raised last year for trial purposes and with further works, and it reached an impressive height of 8.5 meters.

… the original article includes a photo, which I have to include here because this is among the worst ‘restorations’ of any statue I’ve ever seen:

DHA photo via Hurriyet

… looks more like an Australian rules goal judge than a Romanized Egyptian goddess …

Head of Aphrodite from Antiochia ad Cragnum

From a UN-L press release:

Shoveling and sweeping to expose still-hidden portions of a 1,600-square-foot marble mosaic that dates to Roman times, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln archeological team this past summer unearthed a new treasure in southern Turkey.

Lying face down in more than a millennium of soil was a life-size marble head, the remnant of a sculpture of the goddess Aphrodite – still beautiful, though scarred by chips on its nose and face.

The sculpture’s body was missing, likely incinerated in a lime kiln many centuries ago.

By somehow escaping destruction, Aphrodite’s head provides yet another telling detail about how profoundly the region was affected by Greek and Roman culture during the first and second centuries, said project director Michael Hoff, Hixson-Lied professor of art history at UNL. Hoff returned to Nebraska in late August after spending nearly three months in Turkey.

The head, Hoff said, is the only piece of monumental sculpture recovered so far in an eight-year archeological dig at the site of Antiochia ad Cragnum (Antioch on the cliffs), an ancient Mediterranean city that once numbered perhaps 8,000 people.

Last year, Hoff’s team discovered a mosaic thought to be the largest of its type in the region. Archeologists believe it adorned an open-air plaza outside a soaring, 60-foot-high Roman bath house.

Aphrodite’s head was a highlight of a 2013 excavation that also uncovered the vestiges of what appears to be a temple, with a second marble mosaic covering its interior floor.

It is unusual to find a mosaic floor in a temple, Hoff said. His next step is to research other examples to learn more about how mosaics relate to temple architecture.

With assistance from Clark University in Worcester, Mass., and Ataturk University in Turkey, the project has excavated sites in a 200-square kilometer area where Antiochia was located. The project’s co-directors are Rhys Townsend, an art history professor at Clark University; Ece Erdogmus, a native of Turkey who is an architectural engineering professor at NU’s Peter Kiewit Institute in Omaha; and Birol Can, an associate professor of archeology at Ataturk University.

One of Erdogmus’ roles is to help reassemble the stones of another temple located not far from the site of the bathhouse.

The new discoveries add evidence that early residents of Antiochia – which was established at about the time of Emperor Nero in the middle of the first century and flourished during the height of the Roman Empire – adopted many of the trappings of Roman civilization, though they lived in relative isolation a thousand miles from Rome. In the past, scholars believed the region’s culture had been too insular to be heavily impacted by Rome.

Yet Hoff and his team have found many signs that contradict that belief.

“We have niches where statues once were. We just didn’t have any statues,” Hoff said. “Finally, we have the head of a statue. It suggests something of how mainstream these people were who were living here, how much they were a part of the overall Greek and Roman traditions.”

Before the city was founded, the region had been a haven for pirates, including the Cilician pirates who kidnapped Julius Caesar in about 75 B.C. Francis Beaufort, an officer in the British Royal Navy, identified Antiochia’s location in the early 19th century using a guide written by the ancient Roman geographer Ptolemy.

Time, and probably Christian vandals, erased much of the evidence of Antiochia. The bath’s vaulted ceilings may have collapsed in an earthquake. By the third century, Rome’s influence was disrupted by insurrections and rampaging armies. By the fourth century, the area was a key site in the development of Christianity – and Hoff suspects that radical Christians destroyed many of the marble statues and reliefs in an effort to eliminate pagan idolatry.

The archeological team has found evidence of lime kilns near the site, leading Hoff to believe many statues and marble panels were burned to make slaked lime used in concrete. It also appears that at about the same time, the sturdy floor created by the plaza mosaic was used as the base for a glass-blowing furnace.

The glass furnace dates to the late Roman period, which began in the middle of the fourth century, Hoff said. He is now convinced that the bath and temple and their mosaics date to the late second or early third century.

Only about half the plaza mosaic was excavated in 2012. The archeologists returned to the site this summer to excavate the its west half. Their efforts included clearing out a 50-foot long, marble-lined swimming pool in the center of the plaza. They found two stairways leading into the oval pool, as well as built-in benches along its inner sides.

The team turned its shovels toward a mound just south of the plaza, where toppled columns lay half-buried. Telltale signs in the layout make the archeologists believe the building had been a Roman temple, though that has yet to be confirmed.

“Everything about it is telling us it’s a temple, but we don’t have much in the way of to whom it was dedicated,” he said. “We’re still analyzing the finds. But the architecture suggests heavily that it was a temple.”

While the larger bath plaza mosaic features large patterned areas, the temple mosaic uses smaller tesserae to compose geometric designs, as well as images of fruit and floral images amidst a chain guilloche of interlocking circles. The temple mosaic measures about 600 square feet.

Though both mosaics are “spectacular,” the temple mosaic is definitely different from the much larger plaza mosaic, Hoff said.

“I don’t think they are connected,” he said.

The two mosaics likely were designed by different artists, with wealthy patrons of the region hiring itinerant contractors to construct the buildings for public use.

Conservators followed the archeological team to protect the mosaics from additional damage and to repair damaged areas with special mortar. Though the mosaics eventually will be prepared for public display, they now are covered with a conservation blanket and a thick layer of sand.

The rubble of the bath’s collapsed ceilings will be cleared during a future excavation season. Parts of the stone substructure of the bath’s walls have remained standing, their marble veneer long missing. Local lore was that treasure was buried at the site.

Hoff said the excavations have, indeed, yielded treasures – though perhaps not those anticipated by legend.

Some nice photos accompany the original article. There’s also this nice little video:

For some previous coverage of this dig:

Graecomuse also had a nice post this past June just prior to the digging, chock full of background and bibliography:

Back to Zagora

From the Australian:

BEFORE the first ancient Olympics, as Homer was writing his Iliad, there was a bustling early Iron Age city in Greece. And then it all but disappeared.

Australian archaeologists will try to solve the ancient mystery of why the city was abandoned and whether a lack of fresh water was the cause.

They’re off to Zagora, a city that was thriving with farming and industry on the island of Andros in the 9th century BC before it was inexplicably abandoned.

That was about the time of Homer and before Sparta and the Athenian democracy.

Australia’s first archaeological dig in Greece was at Zagora in the 1960s and 1970s and they managed to excavate about 10 per cent of the 6.5 hectare site but did not solve the riddle.

Now 50 Australians will begin working there again next week, hoping to finally explain why an entire population would leave a city at the heart of a major sea trading route.

Some things haven’t changed.

They’ll have to hike in and out to the isolated site each day and use pack mules to carry heavy equipment.

But some things are different.

Ground penetrating radar, satellite imaging analysis and multi-spectral treatment of those images might help, says one of the dig’s co-directors, Lesley Beaumont from Sydney University’s Department of Archaeology.

“What we are able to do now, which couldn’t even have been dreamed of back then, is to use subsurface testing methods … to look underneath the surface of the ground before even putting a spade into it,” she told AAP.

They are curious about whether hydrology might have something to do with the abandonment of the settlement that had been growing at an extraordinary rate.

“One of the ideas we are investigating is whether there has been an earthquake because the ground rock is layers of schist and marble, and marble can be permeated by water but schist can’t.

“If there was a shifting of the layers because of earthquake the water courses could have been altered and the site that was once able to have water may suddenly run dry.”

With three years of funding they began last year with big picture analysis and geophysical survey with help from a geologist. This year includes satellite imagery work, aerial photography and a full excavation season from September 23 until November 4.

“We have found a lot of metal-working evidence on the site, lots of houses had huge storage capacities so they were clearly farming very widely and storing their goods for surplus against hard times or for trade,” she said.

Another dig co-director, Margaret Miller, says Zagora is similar to Pompeii – a snapshot in time to a period we know close to nothing about.

“Archaeology so often only deals with royalty and the rich. Here we’re learning about ordinary folk, people like us, and how they lived,” Dr Miller said in a statement.

She said the site challenges stereotypes of what a city must be like.

There are no kitchens in houses, industry isn’t confined to one area, a question-mark hangs over religion and the most important aspect of the settlement appears to be the fort wall.

The dig overlooking the Aegean is sponsored by the Australian Archaeological Institute in Athens (AAIA), the University of Sydney and the Australian Research Council. It is also partly funded by private donations.

Next year’s dig will be directed by what they find this year.

We’ll add the Zagora Archaeological Project’s blog to our list …

Roman Theatre from Interamna Lirenas

From a University of Cambridge press release:

The head of a lion and griffin, believed to be part of the decoration of the theatre, as well as stone blocks with steps carved into them, are helping to further revise historical understanding about the site of Interamna Lirenas, founded by the Romans in the late 4th century BCE.

The town, which disappeared following its abandonment around 500 CE, was last year mapped by geophysical analysis and imaging undertaken by a team of researchers led by Cambridge archaeologists Dr Alessandro Launaro and Professor Martin Millett.

The discovery of the theatre remains follows the first-ever test excavation of the site this summer and adds new weight to the team’s theories about Interamna Lirenas’ growth and importance.

Dr Launaro said: “The discovery of the theatre remains is an important breakthrough. It bears witness to the social and economic dynamism of the town in a period when modern scholarship has for long believed it to be stagnating and declining.”

“The dating of the first phase of the building to the second half of the first century BCE prompts a serious reconsideration of the urban development of Interamna Lirenas.”

The forgotten remains of the town, which lies 50 miles south of Rome in the Liri Valley, were revealed using ground penetrating radar (GPR) and magnetometry – which measures changes in the earth’s magnetic field caused by different features beneath the surface.

Work at the site began in 2010 but the latest finds add new depths of understanding to a settlement that was wrongly believed by earlier scholars to have been a sleepy backwater of the Roman Empire for much of the 800 years of its inhabitation from 312 BCE to 500 CE.

Dr Launaro added: “The town plan was virtually unknown until we began work here with colleagues from Italy and the UK. But the presence of the theatre from the first century BCE points towards a major overhaul of the town at that time and is evidence of a thriving community – challenging all previous preconceptions of the town as a dreary and somewhat neglected outpost of the empire.”

Today, the site appears as an uninterrupted series of ploughed farmer’s fields, devoid of any recognisable archaeological feature. Before disappearing beneath the earth, the site is thought to have been scavenged for building materials in the years following its abandonment.

The original geophysical work revealed the location of the town’s theatre, marketplace and other buildings spread across the entire settlement which spans some 25 hectares. Dr Launaro and Professor Millett’s research is part of a project that aims to understand more about what happened in towns established by the Romans in Italy following her conquest. The research is led by the pair in collaboration with the Italian State Archaeological Service (Dr Giovanna Rita Bellini), the Comune of Pignataro Interamna (Mayor Benedetto Evangelista), the British School at Rome and the Archaeological Prospection Services of Southampton University.

Dr Launaro said: “Interamna Lirenas is an enticing case study because, in spite of its size, it was not re-occupied at the end of the Roman period, meaning that it retained much of its original shape and features.”

Researchers knew a town existed on the site but did not excavate it in the past as it was thought that all such settlements followed the same template.

Following the discovery of the theatre, the Cambridge team carried out a test excavation of the building to gather information about the nature of the structures, their chronology and level of preservation.

However, the team’s work is not just confined to the town itself, but also its hinterland. Here an intensive archaeological survey, carried out over the last three years, has recovered a varied archaeological evidence pertaining to settlement patterns (e.g. farms, villages, villas) over the period 350 BCE to 550 CE.

Remarkably, site numbers seem to peak precisely between 50 BCE to 250 CE, the outcome of a gradual growth which had originated with the foundation of Interamna Lirenas in the closing years of the fourth century BCE. More importantly, a preliminary comparison of the archaeological finds such as pottery recovered during the rural survey has shown a close overlap, suggesting a symbiotic exchange between town and hinterland as they grew together.

“The integrated approach is making it possible to fully appreciate the significance of transformations taking place within a Roman town by casting them against a wider horizon,” said Dr Launaro. “This and other issues will be explored by us in the coming years as we excavate new areas with geophysical prospection and archaeological surveys across the countryside.”

As mentioned above, they mapped the site a year ago: Mapping Interamna Lirenas

Intact (possibly Royal) Etruscan Tomb from Tarquinia

Extremely interesting item from Discovery News (and Rossella Lorenzi has provided better coverage than the Italian press!) … some excerpts:

The skeletonized body of an Etruscan prince, possibly a relative to Tarquinius Priscus, the legendary fifth king of Rome from 616 to 579 B.C., has been brought to light in an extraordinary finding that promises to reveal new insights on one of the ancient world’s most fascinating cultures.

Found in Tarquinia, a hill town about 50 miles northwest of Rome, famous for its Etruscan art treasures, the 2,600 year old intact burial site came complete with a full array of precious grave goods.

“It’s a unique discovery, as it is extremely rare to find an inviolate Etruscan tomb of an upper-class individual. It opens up huge study opportunities on the Etruscans,” Alessandro Mandolesi, of the University of Turin, told Discovery News. Mandolesi is leading the excavation in collaboration with the Archaeological Superintendency of Southern Etruria. [...]

Blocked by a perfectly sealed stone slab, the rock-cut tomb in Tarquinia appeared promising even before opening it.

Indeed, several objects, including jars, vases and even a grater, were found in the soil in front of the stone door, indicating that a funeral rite of an important person took place there.

As the heavy stone slab was removed, Mandolesi and his team were left breathless. In the small vaulted chamber, the complete skeleton of an individual was resting on a stone bed on the left. A spear lay along the body, while fibulae, or brooches, on the chest indicated that the individual, a man, was probably once dressed with a mantle.

At his feet stood a large bronze basin and a dish with food remains, while the stone table on the right might have contained the incinerated remains of another individual.

Decorated with a red strip, the upper part of the wall featured, along with several nails, a small hanging vase, which might have contained some ointment. A number of grave goods, which included large Greek Corinthian vases and precious ornaments, lay on the floor. [...]

Although intact, the tomb has suffered a small natural structural collapse, the effects of which are visible in some broken vases.

Mandolesi and his team believe the individual was a member of Tarquinia’s ruling family.

The underground chamber was found beside an imposing mound, the Queen Tomb, which is almost identical to an equally impressive mound, the King’s Tomb, 600 feet away.

About 130 feet in diameter, the Queen’s Tomb is the largest among the more than 6,000 rock cut tombs (200 of them are painted) that make up the necropolis in Tarquinia. Mandolesi has been excavating it and its surrounding area for the past six years.

Both mounds date to the 7th century B.C., the Orientalizing period, so called due to the influence on the Etruscans from the Eastern Mediterranean. [...]

Indeed, the two imposing mounds would have certainly remarked the power of the princes of Tarquinia to anybody arriving from the sea.

According to Mandolesi, the fact that the newly discovered burial lies a few feet away from the Queen’s Tomb indicate that it belonged to one of the princes of Tarquinia, someone directly related to the owners of the Queen’s Tomb.

“The entire area would have been off limits to anybody but the royal family,” Mandolesi said.

“In the next days we are going to catalogue all the objects. Further scientific tests will tell us more about the individual and the tomb,” Mandolesi said.

Discovery News will follow the archaeologists live as they remove the goods from the burial chamber.

The original article includes some video coverage and several photos …

If you want some of the Italian press: