Very Interesting Helmet from Kent

From a University of Kent news release:

The department of Classical and Archaeological Studies at the University of Kent has helped confirm a helmet unearthed in Kent dates back to the 1st century BC.

The helmet, found in farmland near Canterbury in September, is made of bronze and was discovered alongside a brooch by an amateur metal detectorist.

Working with Canterbury Archaeological Trust, the helmet has been carefully scanned by archaeologists at Kent using state-of-the-art technology to help define the history of the object.

Using a high resolution contactless scanner, the team have been able to see small hammer indentations in the helmet. The scanner also produces digital pictures helping to reveal intricate details often hidden by colour variations on the helmet’s surface.

Dr Steven Willis, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology and an expert in Iron Age and Roman Britain, said: ‘We are delighted to be able to assist with such a remarkable find for Canterbury and the local area. Using laser-scanning technology, which has become an essential part of the conservation of objects, we have been able to analyse the helmet from a distance and unlock many details, such as the manufacture, decoration and use.

‘This sort of emerging technology allows the rapid production of accurate and high-resolution digital 3D models of archaeological artefacts, minimising the potential harm associated with the repeated handling of these often fragile objects. The technology also ensures any details potentially overlooked by the naked eye are also highlighted.’

‘The secrets of this helmet are only just beginning to emerge but we will know much more as the work progresses. More or less intact helmets of this era are very rare finds, one used as a cremation container, as with this example, is known from Belgium’, Dr Willis added.

Due to the discovery’s archaeological significance, which includes two prehistoric metal objects found together, the find has been registered under the Treasure Act (1996). The objects have been reported to the Coroner and will remain at the British Museum where a special report will be prepared.

Julia Farley, Iron Age curator at the British Museum said: ‘This is a very exciting find, one of only a handful of Iron Age helmets to have been found in Britain. In Late Iron Age Kent, it was not unusual to bury the cremated remains of the dead in a bag fastened with one or more brooches, but no other cremation has ever been found accompanied by a helmet.

‘The owner of this helmet, or the people who placed it in the grave, may have lived through the very beginning of the story of Roman Britain.’

It is hoped that Canterbury Museum will be able to acquire the finds so they can be permanently displayed in Kent. The person who found the treasure has wished to remain anonymous.

The release includes a decent photo:

University of Kent photo

University of Kent photo

There’s a similar (I think) helmet in the British Museum

Roman Tombs from Debelt

From the Sofia News Agency:

A truck carrying concrete for a construction site near Bulgaria’s Debelt has caused the precious discovery of two tombs dating from Roman times.

The news was announced Saturday by the Director of the National History Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, BAS, Lyudmil Vagalinski.

The truck was on a dirt road near the main one between the Black Sea city of Burgas and Sredets, carrying concrete for the construction of a house. The road caved in under its weight and uncovered the marble plates of a Roman tomb, most likely dating from the 2nd-3rd century A.C.. Another tomb was discovered nearby in the aftermath.

The truck, however, cracked some of the marble, while treasure hunters, conducting their own research, have added to the problems archaeologists now face.

The area is currently sealed in expectation of a permit to start archeological digs. The authorities are also conducting a probe in the case.

“Debelt is one of the key archaeological sites in Bulgaria. This is a Roman city, a colony of the highest level, meaning it is a direct copy of the organization and planning of Ancient Rome. It has been founded in year 70 A.C. by retired Roman legionnaires,” Vagalinski explains.

There are 15 Roman colonies on the Balkans, 3 of them in Bulgaria, with Debelt being the earliest one.

I tend not to include photos of things in other sources, but this time I have to … ecce:

Sofia News Agency Photo

If you look at this, it is clear that the tombs aren’t really that deep and are directly under the highway. Indeed, I’m sure I’m not the only one who is thinking at this point that they must have found those tombs when they were building the road and just paved over them, no?

In any event, Debelt is the ancient Deultum.

The Germans Have Left the Building … er Troy

From Hurriyet:

A team of German archaeologists, conducting excavations for nearly 25 years in the ancient city of Troy in Turkey’s northwest, are set to turn over their positions to U.S. archaeologists, daily Hürriyet reported. The German team is leaving the excavations to the Americans because of financial problems, Professor Ernst Pernicka, the head of the excavation team, said.

German archaeologists were still interested in the excavations at Troy, but Turkey wanted the site’s excavations to eventually be carried out by Turkish archaeologists, Pernicka said. The most interesting archaeological find in Troy would be to uncover a cemetery, Pernicka said. “There must definitely be a big cemetery in a city with a population of thousands. But such a cemetery has yet to be discovered.”

According to Pernicka now is the time for the archaeologists to publicize the results of their many years of excavations through a six-volume book to be published in 2015. The book will shed light on the Iliad, an epic poem, often attributed to Homer, which details the Trojan War, as well as the city of Troy in both Greek and Roman periods, Pernicka said.

The scientific work will serve as a monument to the former chairman of the excavations, Professor Manfred Korfmann, who dies in 2005. The work will be devoid of sensational information, according to Pernicka, who claims it will be a very important kind of documentary text for Troy.

Caistor St Edmund Dig Update

A very nice report from the Evening News … note the link at the end to the project’s blog:

They have been excavating for just a week, but already members of an archaeological team at a Roman town on the outskirts of Norwich have found “huge quantities” of artefacts.

A thousand visitors have been to see the dig at Caistor St Edmund in its first week and the excavation, the first inside the walls for 75 years, is uncovering more about how people in the town lived and worked.

The volume of writing implements being discovered shows that it was a thriving administrative centre, while the range of remains of animals unearthed makes archaeologists think that animals were being butchered within the town walls.

That would mark out the Roman town of Venta Icenorum, as it was called, as a very rural and agricultural place, as in many of the Roman urban centres animals were slaughtered outside the walls and then brought into the town.

Dr Will Bowden, the project director from the University of Nottingham, said the voluntary finds washing team were struggling to keep up, such was the volume of coins, pottery and bone being found dating back to the second, third and fourth centuries.

He said: “We are finding all the different parts of an animal you could want, which shows they were butchering on site.

“That’s been quite a nice discovery because you start to get an idea of how people were living and to build up a picture of what the town was like.

“Various things are emerging quite strongly and one is the amount of writing going on here.

“We are getting lots of styli, the pens used for writing on wax tablets. On a dig in the late 20s they found a lot of them too so it is one of the things that keeps turning up at Caistor.

“It really is a centre of administration, and people are writing a lot of things down, probably about taxation.

“We might talk about the Romans, but this was a local population who were living here.

“This would have been the Iceni population. By 200 years after the Roman invasion everyone would have thought of themselves as being a Roman.”

Visitors to the dig will also get the chance to see the full scale of the Roman site as the streets of the town have been painstakingly painted in 14km of white lines on the grass, courtesy of former Norwich High School for Girls groundsman Fred Marsham.

The dig has uncovered a part of one of the Roman roads and jaw bones of cattle or horses and parts of antlers can be seen embedded in the road, and dark strips show where wheel ruts were made by travelling vehicles.

But over the next couple of weeks the team is planning to dig deeper and see if they can discover evidence linking the settlement to East Anglia’s Iceni queen Boudica.

Archaeologists will also be searching for clues to discover the exact date when the Roman streets were originally laid out and if the town continued to be occupied beyond the Roman period.

Parts of the site were originally excavated between 1929 and 1935 following the publication of dramatic aerial photographs showing evidence of streets and public buildings.

Since then, the site has been undisturbed, until last year, when Dr Bowden and his team began excavating the field to the south of the town, which is a scheduled ancient monument owned by the Norfolk Archaeological Trust and managed in partnership with South Norfolk Council.

On that occasion the remains of a fourth-century Roman buried in a shallow grave were uncovered.

Dr Bowden, who also worked on the archaeological dig during the building of Castle Mall, said: “I did my PhD at the University of East Anglia and I used to pass this on the train and I could see what a brilliant site it was and how you could answer so many questions by digging here.

“This sort of site it very rare in Europe, as there are very few Roman towns that don’t have modern settlement build on top of them.

“Roman towns were often built in good locations, but this wasn’t the case there. The better location for the town was Norwich, because it has much better access by river, and that’s a good result for us.”

The dig will continue until Saturday, September 11, with people welcome to visit for free to watch the archaeologists in action.

Visitors to the site could also bump into Time Team’s Tony Robinson, who has been to the dig and will be visiting again as part of filming for a special for the Channel 4 programme, due to be aired next year.

Follow the dig team’s blog at http://caistordig2010.wordpress.com/.

We first heard of this dig back in 2007 (and even before, I guess), when there was much excitement over what might be found. Some high tech equipment was used last year (and this year too … check out the blog) to find promising dig sites. Whatever the case, what I find most interesting is that they keep finding styli all over the place and are making the reasonable connection that this is an administrative centre of some sort. Compare that to that much-more-publicized ‘brothel’/infanticide site from Buckinghamshire, whence one report suggests they’ve found over 70 styluses … again we wonder about the quantities of styluses found at other sites.  A preliminary scan of the interwebs a while back  brought back to me:

  • Pearce John. Archaeology, writing tablets and literacy in Roman Britain. In: Gallia. Tome 61, 2004. pp. 43-51.

… which is available online. It is a preliminary survey and concentrates more on writing tablets than styli, but there are passing mentions of such finds (although not quantities). An interesting extract:

The presence of writing tablets (admittedly in small numbers) on a variety of rural sites is more surprising. Inscriptions on stone in a rural context are very scarce, but rural temples and settlements account for a high proportion of the 35 settlements on which lead curse tablets have been found (Ingemarck, 2001) and writing equipment has been found during the excavation of many rural settlements. We may tentatively suggest on this basis that the use of documents in a rural milieu in the north-west provinces has been significantly underestimated, even if it is unlikely to have ever approached the intensity of document use attested, for example, in rural Roman Egypt.

… but what about these apparently large quantities of styli?

Rethinking the ‘Domus of the Dancing Cherubs’ at Aquileia

This probably won’t last long at ANSA:

Archaeologists working on the remains of an ancient dwelling in northern Italy have reassessed their ideas about the site after uncovering lavish decorations and imposing architectural features. The building in Aquileia, which previously appeared to be a normal Roman villa, has now emerged as a majestic mansion complex, covering an entire block. Archaeologists say the house, or domus, was the largest building in the Ancient Roman city of Aquileia and was probably the residence of a powerful figure, perhaps an imperial official. The location of the ‘Domus of the Dancing Cherubs’, between the river port and the forum, has long indicated that its owner was an important person.

But a string of recent discoveries have revealed the extent of its inhabitant’s status, said the archaeologist leading the team, Federica Fontana.

“During the latest excavations we have found the eastern entrance to the home,” she explained. “This was preceded by a large, paved piazza with a well in it”.

This is considered an exceptional find, not only for its size, but also because few entrance ways have been identified at the underground site over the years. “We have also found a room, at the same level as the entranceway, which had underground heating and a floor decorated with an exquisite multicoloured mosaic,” she said. “Thanks to these and other discoveries we can conclude that the house probably covered the entire quarter. It was divided into a series of small courtyards with colonnades. “One of these even had a large, limestone canal with drainage for rain water, of a type usually only seen in public buildings”. The team also uncovered a beautifully sculpted woman’s marble bust in the complex’s innermost courtyard that was probably once part of the architectural decoration. “All these elements make it clear just how important this domus was in Aquileia,” said Fontana. Work on Via Gemina, where the Domus of the Dancing Cherubs once stood, has yielded up a number of key discoveries in recent years. In 2005, two coloured mosaics were uncovered in astonishing condition, while 2009 saw the discovery of an extremely rare “cage cup”.

These luxury Roman drinking vessels, only a handful of which have survived the centuries, consist of an inner glass beaker surrounded by an outer decorated cage of metal.

Much of Aquileia, which was once one of the largest and wealthiest cities of the Early Roman Empire, still lies unexcavated beneath fields. Adding the site to its World Heritage List in 1998, UNESCO cited the fact that most of ancient Aquileia survives intact underground, making it the most complete example of an Early Roman city in the Mediterranean world.

I’m pretty sure the mosaic mentioned is not the one which Adrian Murdoch mentioned on Twitter a couple of days ago (which dates from the fourth century) …. that said, here’s a photo from the ANSA coverage in La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno (English edition):

… which I find very interesting as I’ve seen that ‘fishing cupids’ motif at Piazza Armerina (when I find my portable hard drives that disappeared a couple of months ago, I’ll post the photos I took … until then, here’s an example I found at flickr … might have to dig into this motif a bit more).

Previous reports from Aquileia (where a major did has been going on for quite a while) includes the excavation of the public baths (2006) … not sure why we don’t hear more about this dig.

Roman Socks and Sandals Rereredux

Newspapers in the UK are starting to get agog over a recent find … the Telegraph seems typical:

New evidence from an archaeological dig has found that legionnaires wore socks with sandals.

Rust on a nail from a Roman sandal found in newly discovered ruins in North Yorkshire appears to contain fibres which could suggest that a sock-type garment was being worn.

Now scientists are examining the remains in the laboratory to see if it is true.

The fashion faux pas was found in a 2000-year-old “industrial estate” excavated as part of a £318 million Highways Agency scheme to upgrade the A1 between Dishforth and Leeming in North Yorkshire.

The unearthed site includes the remains of a water-powered flour mill used to grind grain and produce food for the soldiers, clothes, food remains, graves and pottery.

It also contains the evidence of the socks in 14 graves on the outskirts of the area.

Blaise Vyner, an archaeologist heading the cultural heritage team on site, said: “You don’t imagine Romans in socks but I am sure they would have been pretty keen to get hold of some as soon as autumn came along.”

Similiter:

Harry Mount (also in the Telegraph) writes a good accompanying column, but without giving the journalists a much-needed  lack-of-research slap-on-the-wrist:

I can quite believe the story that Romans stationed in north Yorkshire 2000 years ago wore socks with their sandals, and so kicked off an unfortunate British fashion that’s survived to the present day.

Yes, the Romans were a fantastically tough martial race with great imperial ambitions. But they were also from the hot south; the Geordie weather of Hadrian’s Wall was not for them.

35 years ago, just south of Hadrian’s Wall, at the fort of Vindolanda, archaeologists found letters to and from the legionaries there – most of them hailing from Gaul. Like anyone far away from home, they missed their wives, and their food.

The letters talk fondly of Mediterranean food and drink: Massic wine, garlic, fish, semolina, lentils, olives and olive oil. When they can’t get their favourite food imported, they have to make do with local British fare: pork fat, cereal, spices, roe-deer and venison, all washed down with beer. Walk into your local pub – things haven’t changed much.

What really gets the legionaries down, though, is the cold of Northumberland. They are desperate for “subuclae” – or vests – and “abollae”, thick heavy cloaks. The most famous letter just lists the items sent from Gaul to one freezing soldier: “Paria udonum ab Sattua solearum duo et subligariorum duo”; that is, “socks, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants”.

Socks, sandals and pants. Without them Roman Britain would not have lasted nearly half a millennium, until 410AD, when they packed their smalls and headed down south to warmer climes.

Okay … before we get to some more responsible coverage, let’s note that back in 2003, back when rogueclassicism was but a babe among blogs, the BBC had a report about a dig in London which began:

Evidence for what, by modern standards, would be considered a lack of style has been uncovered at a major archaeological dig in south London, where a foot from a bronze statue appears to be adorned with both socks and sandals.

Here’s a photo:

A couple of years later, when rogueclassicism was a bit more mature, the BBC also had:

The sartorial elegance of the Italians has been shattered, with news that woolly socks helped their ancestors’ conquest of northern England.

The evidence has emerged among archaeological objects found in the River Tees at Piercebridge, near Darlington in County Durham.

Among the items was an unusual Roman razor handle, made of copper alloy and in the shape of a human leg and foot.

The 5cm high foot is wearing a sandal with a thick woollen sock underneath. [...]

… here’s a photo:

Adrian Murdoch has responded to the present hype with a good post on other evidence for the practice: Roman socks and sandals

Dorothy King responds in a similar vein as I do, with some additional details: Socks and Roman Sartorial Sins ….

… and as long as we’re on the subject, we really should highlight the BBC’s responsible coverage of the current find, which is actually about a hitherto unknown ‘industrial estate’ which may have been home to a legion:

Archaeologists have discovered a Roman industrial estate near ruins which may once have been home to a lost legion.

The site has been excavated as part of a £318 million scheme to upgrade the A1 in North Yorkshire.

It is close to a fort at Healam Bridge, which might have been used by the Ninth Hispanic Legion, which disappeared some time in the 2nd Century AD.

The find includes evidence that the Romans may have worn socks under their sandals!

The unearthed site includes the remains of a water-powered flour mill used to grind grain and produce food for the soldiers along with clothes, food remains, graves and pottery.

Cultural heritage team leader Blaise Vyner said: “We know a lot about Roman forts, which have been extensively studied, but to excavate an industrial area with a mill is really exciting.

“We hope it can tell us more about how such military outposts catered for their needs, as self-sufficiency would have been important.”
Neil Redfern from English Heritage with the remains of a horse, found under a building. Image courtesy of COI Yorkshire & Humber

The industrial area comprised a series of large timber buildings, mostly on the north side of a beck, which powered the mill.

It would have supplied the fort with goods and provisions, probably processing meat and other food, as well as flour.

It could also have developed into something of a settlement in its own right.

There is also an indication that the Roman occupants may have worn socks. Rust on the nail from a Roman sandal appears to have impressions from fibres which could suggest that a sock-type garment was being worn.

Mr Vyner added: “You only have to look up the road to Catterick to see how garrison towns are serviced by local shops. Perhaps we have something similar here.”

Economic role

Neil Redfern from English Heritage said that the discovery of the site had given a “real insight” in to the industrial processes used by the Romans.

“The time span of the remains uncovered illustrates how the site developed from a frontier fort and settlement to a more settled site with strong local economic role relating to the presence of mills along the banks of the beck.

“The complexity and depth of deposits were unexpected and the excavation team has dealt with them very professionally.”

Very little is known about the Roman fort itself, which is now a scheduled monument.

It only came to light as a result of geophysical surveys carried out in the 1990s in readiness for the A1’s planned upgrading. The line of the new road was adjusted to avoid the main site.

Gary Frost, Highways Agency project manager, said the excavation, which began in July 2009 and was completed this summer, gave experts a unique window on the past.

cf: Roman ‘industrial estate’ unearthed in North Yorkshire | BBC

… they also have a video report at:

So the upshot is that we’ve known about the Roman socks-and-sandals look for quite some time; as for this new site, hopefully we’ll find some burials nearby which can tell us a bit more about the people who lived there.

Pre Roman Remains at Brading Roman Villa

From the County Press:

THE third phase of the Big Dig at Brading Roman Villa may well have been one of the toughest excavations eminent archaeologist Sir Barry Cunliffe had ever undertaken but it has yielded some treasures and a greater understanding of Brading’s history up to its Roman occupation.
With the three-week dig ending yesterday (Friday), Sir Barry’s team has unearthed, over the past two weeks, numerous pottery remains, ranging from pieces of amphorae to a tray for sifting sea water to extract salt.
The discovery of a second century BC saucepan became the earliest evidence of occupation on the site, pushing its history back as much as two centuries.
Examples of early jewellery were also found, which included an example of a small mid-first century AD brooch inlaid with enamel.
A butt beaker, a type of Gaulish pre-Roman period drinking vessel, bronze tweezers, a flagon and a cremation jar were also discovered.
During the first week of the dig, Sir Barry’s team unearthed a rare cooking pot and a copper coin bearing the image of a goddess.
This year’s dig concentrated principally on a site to the rear of the villa’s car park.
There is, according to Sir Barry, strong evidence the villa was a high-status farmstead in the late Iron Age, trading with the Romans before the AD43 invasion of Britain.
“We’ve got reminders of Mediterranean manners and lifestyle before the Roman invasion and them being incorporated into community life,” he explained. “It is likely salt was a product of this area. The farmstead may well date back to an earlier period of the Iron Age. The dig was unrelenting — one of the toughest sites to dig any of us has ever seen.
“Yet it yielded a host of fascinating features and gave us a real understanding about the villa story.”

Major Temple Site from LeMans/Vindunum

From the Guardian:

Excavations near the antique city of Vindunum (now Le Mans) have revealed a vast religious site dating from the first to the third centuries AD with remarkably well-preserved offerings.

Sometimes archaeology requires imagination. And you need it to conjure up the vast complex of temples that stood nearly 2,000 years ago on this flat two-hectare strip of land, in what is now Neuville-sur-Sarthe, 4km to the north of Le Mans.

“I have been an archaeologist for 30 years, and I’ve been lucky enough to work on some wonderful digs. But this is an exceptional discovery, the sort that all archaeologists dream of making once in their lives,” said Gérard Guillier, who heads the team from the National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap) that has been poring over this piece of land since June. The team has no time to lose because in the autumn this former Gallo-Roman sanctuary will be transformed into an “urban development zone”.

After an aerial assessment that revealed the shape of the ancient buildings in the wheat fields, followed by the some underground probing, mechanical diggers were sent in to clear the surface of the site. Unfortunately the blocks of limestone and sandstone from the antique buildings had disappeared, salvaged over the centuries for other building work in the area. Only a few stones bear witness to the original temple structures. Young archaeologists uncover them delicately one at a time, using trowels, scrapers and brushes. Every stone is numbered, drawn and its location marked on a map.

“Given the size of the site, hundreds of pilgrims, possibly thousands, would have come here to honour the gods,” said Guillier. “They probably held other mass events here too.”

The lines drawn on the ground by the archaeologists make the site resemble a vast treasure hunt. The red ones indicate the streets, paths and galleries that once connected the buildings, while blue circles mark the holes that held the pillars supporting the colonnade, which led the visitors to the temples.

At the entrance to the site, there once stood a large E-shaped building, probably for welcoming the pilgrims, selling religious objects and housing the temple guardians. One wide path littered with iron slag (Vindunum was a major metalworking centre), leads a few hundred metres south to the foundations of a circular fanum (temple) about 12 metres in diameter. That round shape was rare in Gallo-Roman times and there are only a few such examples in France.

In fact, three temples were erected successively during the second and third centuries. Possibly they had to be rebuilt because of the instability of the ground. A pergola and a flight of steps would have led to the temple, which had stone walls around seven metres high covered by a tiled roof. Inside, the cella (central room) housed the statue of the god.

Another fanum stood at the west, the oldest in the sanctuary, dating to the first century. It was square, 15 metres wide and apparently in the Celtic temple tradition. This one was originally built in wood and stone added later, together with a cella surrounded by a gallery for circumambulation and a wall separating the sacred space from the profane. Fragments of coloured plaster show that the walls were once panted. The temple was surrounded by octagonal or square-shaped secondary “chapels”.

It is here that the archaeologist uncovered a marvellous selection of objects placed as offerings. They include Gallic, Celtic and Roman silver coins, bronze and silver-plated bronze fibulae (broaches), some jewellery including a gold ring with a green quartz representing a deity, as well as bronze keys, pottery and knives. They also found a dagger, sledgehammers and hammers, possibly offerings from soldiers and ironmongers, who held high-risk occupations requiring more divine protection than others.

But what gods were worshipped there? No statues or inscriptions have been found as clues, and the Gallic pantheon was as plentiful as the Roman one.

Another large sanctuary once stood in Allonnes, to the south of Le Mans, dedicated to the Gallo- Roman god Mars Mullo. Would there have been two major sanctuaries in one city? According to Guillier, “Situated as they were on hillocks on either side of Vindunum, they probably had a protective role for the town.”

The archaeologists have another enigma to solve. They have uncovered several graves near the circular fanum, with funerary objects such as a glass bottle and a box for seals. Until now archaeologists have never found temples and graves in such close proximity, since Romans observed strict separation between what they perceived as the “pure” and the “impure”. It will take years to reconstruct the history of the sanctuary and its pilgrims. And a great deal of imagination.

<a href=”http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/aug/17/france-archaeology”>* News * World news * France Ancient temple complex discovered near Le Mans</a>

See also:

… I’m sure I’m not the only one who had never heard of this Mars Mullo before …

Major Find (Maybe?) From Apollonia

Here’s one Tim Parkin (and others) and I have been chatting about on Facebook … AFP via PhysOrg:

Archaeologists unearthed a Roman bust from the 2nd century AD hailed as the most important archaeological find of the last 50 years in Albania, experts said Friday.

“It is an exceptional discovery, the most important in the last 50 years in Albania because the bust is still intact,” French professor Jean-Luc Lamboley, who led the dig at Apollonia with Albanian archaeologists, told AFP.

Experts say the bust of an unknown athlete found at the Apollonia site, some 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Tirana, was of a remarkable quality.

Apollonia is one of the biggest archaeological sites in Albania and the fact that no modern town was built on its ruins makes for excellent excavating conditions.

The team of French and Albanian archaeologists digging at the scene are studying how Apollonia evolved from a Greek colony founded in the 7th century BC to a Roman settlement in the 3rd century AD.

“This spans a thousand years of history and we can study here how the classic Greek civilisation was transmitted, evolved and enriched in Roman times,” Lamboley said.

“For security reasons the bust was moved Friday to the Tirana archaeological museum as the Apollonia museum still has no security system in place,” the French expert added.

After the fall of communism in the early 1990s and following public unrest in 1997 several art works were stolen from Albanian museums probably to be sold to foreign art lovers at very high prices.

… the original AFP item (via Google and likely short-lived; no photo):

In any event, the PhysOrg piece is accompanied by a photo:

I tracked down another photo at Balkan Insight:

… which is interesting, because that second one doesn’t seem to be the same as the first one at all (perhaps this is a case where an indefinite article became definite in translation; maybe it’s just the angle of the photo). In any event, assuming that the first photo is the one that is being ‘hailed’, what Dr Parkin (and others) and I have been struck by is how ‘perfect’ this bust seems to be, despite having been buried for however many years. The nose, hair, and everything else seems undamaged and really isn’t typical of what tends to emerge from archaeological sites.

That said, I believe this must be the same site where Jack L. Davis and the University of Cincinnati was digging a few years ago (see also this earlier post) At one point, road construction threatened it … not sure how long the French have been involved there.

ADDENDUM (an hour or so later): Dorothy King notes the similarity to an item in the Shelby-White Collection which graced an exhibition catalog a while back (the image is via the Looting Matters blog):

Hekatomnus’ Tomb Found(?)

I’ve already griped about how my low-bandwidth situation while visiting my mother was incredibly annoying when there was big archaeological news, so by way of praeteritio, I won’t mention it again. Even so, another example of which were reports of a tomb find in Milas, Turkey. The initial English report brought back by my spiders  suggested the tomb of “Hekataios” had been found, and I expressed hesitations about that in the issue of Explorator that went out at the time. That, however, was followed by our friend Dorothy King’s excitement on Twitter about the discovery of the tomb of Hecatomnus, the founder of the Hecatomnid dynasty in Caria. It turned out I was getting a number of news reports on this, but didn’t make the connection as most of them had headlines concentrating on a ‘looted tomb’ being found. Eventually, however, we did manage to see what Dr King was excited about … AP seems to have taken the lead in picking up the story, so here’s the version from The Age:

Turkish police have raided a house used by people suspected of digging illegally for antiquities and discovered two tunnels leading to an underground tomb that housed an ancient marble coffin and frescoes, officials say.

Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay on Friday described the discovery near the town of Milas, in western Turkey, as an “important archaeological find” and ordered digs in surrounding areas, Haber Turk newspaper reported.

Looting of ancient artifacts is common in Turkey, and the country has imposed heavy penalties to deter illegal digs. But the Milas discovery is the first time in years that authorities have found what could be an important archeological site while chasing looters.

The 2800-year-old carved coffin, decorated with reliefs of a bearded reclining man, probably belonged to Hecatomnus, who ruled over Milas, according to Turkey’s Culture Ministry.

Several treasures that would have been placed in the underground tomb were most likely looted by the treasure hunters and sold in the illegal antiquities trade, the ministry said.

A court has arrested and charged five of 10 people detained in the raid, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.

Anatolia, which was allowed to enter the tomb, said the suspects had dug two tunnels – six and eight meters long, from the house and an adjacent barn, leading to the tomb that is buried about 10 meters deep.

They used sophisticated equipment to drill through the thick marble walls of the tomb and were working to remove the coffin from the underground chamber when they were detained, according to the Culture Ministry.

“I would have wished that this (archeological find) had been discovered through our digs and not through digs conducted by a band of treasure hunters,” Anatolia quoted Gunay as saying.

“This is not an ordinary treasure hunt. It is very organised and it is obvious that they received economic and scientific help,” Gunay said. Turkey also would investigate the suspects possible overseas links, he said.

The story has been more widely reported (for obvious reasons) in the Turkish Press and Dorothy King’s own series of blogposts are definitely worth reading:

In addition to the foregoing, folks will probably like the photos from Radikal’s slideshow:

… and perhaps more interesting is a 15 minute video from Haberler(with commentary in Turkish, of course, but there really isn’t much of it … definitely read DK’s posts before watching this; be patient … it took forever to load for me); keep your eye open for the segment showing how the looters accessed the tomb … they had some heavy-duty equipment:

In regards to the foregoing, I tried to do a Google translate on the text and I *think* the identification as Hekatomnus is based on inscriptions/graffiti on the walls left by workers? I’m not at all positive about that but it’s a major question which isn’t dealt with in the English coverage.

More coverage:

Manicure Set from Myra-Andriake (Turkey)

The only version in English that I can find of this (in multiple newspapers) has the story tied to that Swedish phallic thing that was in the news for most folks last week. Here’s what’s important for us:

Archaeologists have uncovered an ancient Roman personal care set at Myra-Andriake in Antalya’s district of Demre, Turkey.

Professor Nevzat Cevi, an academic from Akdeniz University’s Archeology Department and colleagues excavated an 1800-year-old pair of bronze tweezers and a manicure rasp at Andriake Port.

“Now, we are aware that the Lycian women of the Roman period 1,800 years ago were living well-groomed by using a pair of tweezers, rasp and mirror,” The Hurriyet Daily News quoted Cevi as saying. [...]

This appears to be the original article; no photo, alas (manicure set or medical kit?) … not sure what was left out of the above:

Statue of Artemis from Zajecar?

Tip o’ the pileus to Adrian Murdoch for this one:

At the site of the ‘Felix Romuliana’, an imperial palace near the Town of Zajecar, German experts of the Archeology Institute in Frankfurt, together with the colleagues of the Archeology Institute in Belgrade have discovered a sensational sculpture, unique in this area of the Balkans. This marble statue originates from the first half of the third century.

As ‘Blic’ learns unofficially, it is most likely a sculpture of Diana, the Goddess of the hunt. At the National Museum in Zajecar we were told that this discovery has been the most significant one since finding of archvault in 1984 with the inscription ‘Felix Romuliana’ and a head of Galerius in 1993.

It is supposed that the sculpture symbolizes victory by Rome over barberians. Unfortunately a fragment of the sculpture (a horse and a rider) is missing. The rider is believed to be Diana.

Experts claim that this discovery is absolutely precious for studying of the ‘Romuliana’, but for the world culture as well.

Huge interest of experts from all over the world is expected.

The German archeologists using geomagnetic and geophysics method of search outside the imperial palace have discovered about fifty objects. Recently a new three-year agreement on cooperation has been signed with the Institute in Frankfurt.

The ‘Felix Romuliana’ contains numerous floor mosaics and remains of monumental temples and buildings. The Portrait of Emperor Galerius, heads of Hercules and Jupiter, mosaic presentations of Dionis, Labyrinth and Venator are the very best of the Roman art of that time.

The article is accompanied by a photo:

from Blic

Now I’m not sure if this is just a portion of the sculpture (likely) or the whole thing (if it’s the sculpture in question at all), but it seems to me that they’re reading quite a bit into it; the boar might suggest some link to the Artemis – Adonis tiff, but in that one the boar wasn’t a victim …

Roman Wall Paintings from Bulgaria

Flag of the city of Svishtov, Veliko Tarnovo O...
Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been waiting for my spiders to bring me this one … but they seemed to have stopped at Francesca Tronchin’s first (tip o’ the pileus). Brief item from Balkan Travellers:

An archaeologist has discovered unique wall paintings in an ancient residence in the late Roman town of Novae, located in northern Bulgaria.

Over 21 days, Pavlina Vladkova, an archaeologist from the Regional History Museum in Veliko Tarnovo, researched a residence, located outside of the territory of the erstwhile legionary base, which was located in Novae. She studies rooms that date to the second, third and fourth centuries.

One of the premises she studied was a dining room with a length of 12 metres and width of 4.5 metres and heating built into the floor and walls. The room was divided into two parts, and Vladkova stumbled onto the valuable frescos in one of them.

One of the room’s walls was covered in coloured paint, while the other had paintings on it. The decoration is reminiscent of contemporary wall paper, the archaeologist explained and added that the colouring has been well preserved.

The residence where the frescos were found used to house representatives of the imperial family, Vladkova said. Work on preserving the wall paintings has already started.

Meanwhile, a team of Polish archaeologists continues excavations at the Novae site this summer, with plans to study the military hospital at the site. At the same time, a group of archaeologists from the National Archaeology Institute at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences will be studying the officers’ residences in Novae.

The site of Novae is situated on the southern bank of the Danube near the present-day town of Svishtov. The site was an ancient Roman legionary base. During the reign of Emperor Trajan, the legio I Italica settled in the base, from where it was supposed to guard the borders of the Roman Empire from the barbarians. A settlement was established and grew around the base.

The archaeologist in charge is one whom we mentioned last summer (in passing) as having discovered a nymphaeum at Nicopolis ad Istrum ; interestingly, at Novae (I think) three or so years ago a Polish team also came across an nymphaeum.

Questionable Antiquities in Madrid

Way back when the ‘museum case’ was just getting under way I wondered why the focus seemed to be only on American museums … now, it appears, with the trial of Gianfranco Becchina commencing, European museums might be coming into view. Here’s a very interesting item on same from the Art Newspaper:

Madrid’s National Archaeological Museum, founded in 1867, may have acquired 22 antiquities that were illegally excavated and exported from Italy. Research suggests that the objects may have passed through the hands of antiquities dealers Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina. Medici was discovered with a store full of antiquities, photographs (many of them Polaroids without any scientific method) and documents, in Geneva in 1995, while Becchina was identified as the owner of three warehouses in Basel in 2001, allegedly containing thousands of suspicious artefacts and photographs, along with an archive of files on clients, shipping documents, invoices and bank statements. Medici was finally found guilty in 2009 in Rome of trafficking in antiquities (he is appealing: he initially received ten years in prison, reduced by two on first appeal, and a €10m fine payable to the state as compensation for damage to Italy’s cultural heritage), while the trial of Becchina is now beginning. He denies charges of trafficking in illegally excavated antiquities.

The history

One of the consequences of the virulent grande razzia (“great raid”) of antiquities across Italy that began in the early 1970s (involving at least one million illegally excavated objects introduced to the market and often sold abroad, ten thousand investigations, and the ransacking of tens of thousands of archaeological sites), is the dispersal of illegally excavated artefacts around the world, where they have become rootless, reduced to mere pieces of furniture, dumb objects no longer able to connect us with the ancient world from where they originated. Such a dispersal was inevitable in a business that has a rather different way of operating than archaeology (although in certain cases it was at least done in good faith, on the part of the buyers, if not on the part of the dealers): the “traffickers” laundered their spoils in exactly the same way that the mafia launders its “narco dollars”. They would make use of the major auction houses, usually in London, sometimes employing aliases but often under their own names or through their own companies, and sell objects of deeply suspect provenance. These they would occasionally buy back themselves, thus giving the objects a far less suspicious history, and meaning that the sellers had then effectively dictated their worth.

Consequently these antiquities, wrenched from the past, ended up all over the place. The American museums in particular almost fell over each other to get their hands on the most attractive ones, often knowingly buying objects of shadowy provenance, from unscrupulous dealers or middlemen acting on behalf of the tombaroli (tomb robbers) and excavators. However, a number of highly respected historic institutions also got caught up in the archaeological “black market” trap, institutions which in all likelihood had no idea where the amphorae, vases, kantharoi and kylikes they were buying came from. In these cases, they were certainly not doing anything illegal; but such activities raise an ethical question. Is it right, or moral, for museums (places established to conserve and exhibit objects, but also to educate and promote culture) to display artefacts plundered after the 1970 Unesco Convention, (on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property) rather than, as in centuries past, during wars and conquests? What type of “culture” are these museums exhibiting, promoting and teaching: the culture of clandestine excavations and fraud?

Buying the objects

The objects in question were bought by the Madrid museum in 1999, as part of a major collection of 181 ancient artefacts from the Etruscan period, Ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt and Spain, spanning the fifth century BC to the fifth century AD. The museum (founded during the reign of Isabella II, with three floors of antiquities housed in the same building as the Royal Library and over one million pieces from the prehistoric period onwards in its 39 rooms), paid $12m to the 82-year-old collector and entrepreneur José Luis Várez Fisa for the collection. Fisa, included in ARTnews’ annual list of the world’s top 200 collectors in 2009, also owns paintings by Goya and Velázquez, and was a patron of the Prado museum until he resigned following the decision to transfer Picasso’s most famous painting, Guernica, to the Centro Reina Sofía. The archaeological museum’s then director, Miguel Angel Elvira Barba, said in 1999: “We have taken an enormous step forward both in terms of quality and quantity; [this] collection now puts us among the ranks of the greatest museums in Europe and the US.”

The investigation

The collection was exhibited in autumn 2003, accompanied by a 500-page catalogue. In 2006, the Italian archaeologist Daniela Rizzo from the Villa Giulia in Rome and document expert Maurizio Pellegrini, both of whom have assisted Prosecutor Paolo Giorgio Ferri in the case against Giacomo Medici, came across the catalogue. They have been working on a database of tens of thousands of objects that they believe were secretly and illegally excavated from Italy, and put up for sale from the 1970s onwards, many of which have been traced back to the confiscated archives belonging to Medici and Becchina. They have spent so many hours poring over these images that they are now able to almost instantly identify them and, in only a few days, were able to match items from the catalogue with pictures seized in the police raids.

They believe that 22 of the artefacts in the Madrid museum’s 2003 catalogue also appear in Medici’s and Becchina’s confiscated photos (comparison above). A few of them show objects still covered in mud—suggesting they had been recently (and illegally) unearthed—while others show the pieces in fragments, before the dealers sent them to be professionally restored. One object, an Apulian Bell Krater from 330BC that was later sold by Sotheby’s, appeared in a picture belonging to Medici that appears to have been taken in the Zurich workshop of the art restorers Fritz and Harry Bürki, a father-and-son team to whom leading antiquities dealer Robert Hecht (whose separate trial in Rome relating to the illicit trade is likely to end without a verdict because it has run out of time) sent works for restoration.

Some of the objects in the Madrid catalogue have been published before, including in the German review Munzen und Medaillen, whose late owner was a close friend of Becchina, or by the leading New York antiquarian, Jerome Eisenberg, of the Royal-Athena Galleries. His gallery has “sold more than 30,000 masterpieces to major museums in the US and Europe”, according to its website and boasts “the largest selection of antique objects in the world”. Nine of the Madrid artefacts were first published by Eisenberg between 1993 and 1997, in volumes of the gallery’s Art of the Ancient World. (Eisenberg counters that all the objects in his catalogues between 1988 and 2005 were checked by the Italian police, and that all—apart from eight objects that he voluntarily returned to Italy in 2007—were cleared by them.)

Felicity Nicholson, head of antiquities at Sotheby’s in London, is reported to have told Prosecutor Ferri that Medici had been her main client at antiquities auctions and that he would sell objects under two aliases and buy them back in person. In the Medici depository in Geneva, dozens of objects carried the Sotheby’s label. A photo of a vase is accompanied by a note by Robert Hecht, handwritten in red with lots of exclamation marks: “The amphora sent to Sotheby’s is not the one that was bought!” But if Medici was highly active in London, he was also doing good business in New York. Between 1991 and 1995 his dummy company, Editions Services, bought 135 lots at Sotheby’s auctions. The London branch alone supplied the Italian judges with three substantial volumes of documentation detailing its relationship with Medici (and this was still described as “incomplete” at his sentencing). As of 1997, Sotheby’s ceased holding antiquities sales in London.

The “trafficking” link

Other artefacts in Madrid were unpublished until the 2003 catalogue. Becchina’s archive contains photographs of both sides of an Oriental-style Italic Amphora with a Wounded Deer from the seventh century BC, height 52cm, whose dimensions are clearly important enough to note down. The Madrid catalogue, showing a similar object, says of its provenance that “the location is unknown, making it difficult to ascribe it to a specific Italic workshop”. A negative from Medici’s confiscated archive depicts an Etruscan Oinochoe from 600BC: the Madrid catalogue of a similar piece says that the “provenance is Cerveteri”, but also that it was acquired “from the Swiss antiquarian market”. It was first published in Munzen und Medaillen.

Another Attic Amphora with Black Figures Preparing to Set Off in Chariots of around 520BC, attributed to the Priam Painter, was published in December 1997 in a Sotheby’s New York catalogue. However, Pellegrini says that three Polaroids from the Medici archive show the same object before restoration and covered in concretions, suggesting that it had only recently been excavated. Pellegrini also says it “appeared” in another portfolio, confiscated from a villa in the Cyclades belonging to the former art dealer Robin Symes, by the Greek police during their investigations into alleged looting.

Medici also had two photos of another, unpublished, object, a large Amphora with Black Figures Depicting Herakles Fighting the Amazons from the late sixth century BC, measuring almost half a metre in height, and attributed by the museum to the Antimenes Painter. The photos in Medici’s possession show it still in fragments. Two more of Medici’s negatives show both sides of an Amphora with Black Figures Depicting Herakles Fighting Triton from 530BC, which probably belonged to the same set of grave goods. The object was sold at Sotheby’s New York on 22 May 1989.

Who is to blame?

It is important to note that there is no evidence of any dealing between José Luis Várez Fisa and Becchina or Medici, despite the large amount of paperwork seized from the pair, or that Fisa was aware of any problems in the provenance of the objects he acquired. It also the case that the widespread trafficking in illegally excavated antiquities since the 1970s until very recently (despite the 1970 Unesco Convention designed to curb the illicit trade) has meant that objects have inadvertently entered private and museum collections (although higher standards of due diligence over provenance-checking among museums are now the norm). Meanwhile, requests to the Madrid museum from The Art Newspaper to comment on these allegations remained unanswered at time of publication.

Nevertheless the case demonstrates how easily all too many recent private collections were formed, and how some of the world’s most important museums (and not only those who knowingly connived to buy objects directly from the “traffickers”), bought antiquities that had been completely decontextualised from their past, with origins were at best extremely obscure. Will the Italian state try to reclaim at least some of the more important artefacts taken from under its soil? And, now that the National Archaeological Museum of Madrid knows all about the illicit provenance of many of its artefacts, will it pretend that nothing has happened? Indifference, surely, is not an option.

via: Looted from Italy and now in a major Spanish museum? | The Art Newspaper

The original article includes photos of some of the objects … As always in such situations, it’s useful to see David Gill’s comments on the situation

Roman Villa + Burial from Bredon’s Norton

A potentially-interesting find due to waterworks construction:

A 2,000-YEAR-OLD human skeleton has been unearthed alongside Iron Age artefacts near Tewkesbury.

Archaeologists uncovered signs of the ancient Roman villa in a field on the edge of Bredon’s Norton. It is thought the finds could be of national importance.

Metal detector hunts in recent years had led historians to suspect an ancient community might be found there.

That was confirmed when contractors who were laying a new water pipeline began digging.

Senior project manager Stuart Foreman is leading a team of archaeologists on a six-week excavation at the site.

Mr Foreman, of Oxford Archaeology, said thousands of pieces of masonry, nails, tiles, pottery and clothing will have been unearthed by the time the project is complete.

The area being examined is 200 metres long and 15 metres wide.

He said: “Whenever you find a new villa, it’s of national importance. It’s pretty unusual to find a new villa that hasn’t been recognised before. It’s an important local centre.”

He said large pieces of masonry and flagstone flooring had been found and it was well preserved.

He said: “Fragments of stone peg-tiles from the roof and sections of painted wall plaster indicate a building of high quality and status.

“The footings survive to a height of nearly 1m cut into the hillside.”

He said it did not rank as highly as the famous Roman Villa at Chedworth, near Cheltenham, but was still an important addition to a cluster of villas found in the Cotswolds and upper Thames valley.

Experts estimate that the villa is more than 1,700 years old.

They do not know yet whether the skeleton is of a male or female but believe it is at least 2,000 years old. It has been taken to Oxford to be analysed.

More coverage:

Chariot Burial (and more) from Borissovo

I’m often asked how I find so much stuff to post on rogueclassicism and one of the sad things is that there actually is a lot more that I seem to get, file away, and forget about and only ‘rediscover’ while poking around looking for other things. A case in point is this brief item from the Sofia Echo way back in August of 2008:

A team led by archaeologist Daniela Agre of Bulgaria’s National Institute of Archaeology unearthed an ancient four-wheel chariot near the Borissovo village in the Elhovo region, dating back from the first half of the second century ACE, Focus news agency reported.

Along with the 1900-year-old chariot, in the funeral mound the team discovered shields, richly adorned in bronze, as well as table pottery and glass vessels. The finds led Agre to believe that she had come across the funeral of a wealthy Thracian aristocrat.

The chariot was fully preserved, which, the archaeologist said, was a rare circumstance and it was the first such case in Bulgaria.

Agre’s team also found the skeletons of two riding horses and some leather objects placed next to them, believed to be horse harnesses. The archaeologist suspected the horses have been sacrificed for the burial ceremony.

Agre has explained that the discovery could be traced back to the rule of Roman emperor Trajan (from 98 to 117 ACE), when Thrace was a Roman province. Thracian aristocrats, however, displayed loyalty by serving in the Roman army, and were able to preserve their privileges of nobility.

via: Fully preserved Thracian chariot discovered near Elhovo | Sofia Echo

I discovered my lapse in reporting this one (which I had squirrelled away in Evernote for some reason) when my spiders brought back a more lengthy piece from something called Horsetalk (from New Zealand): Unearthed chariot provides spectacular detail, which actually turns out to be echoing a piece from Alphagalileo, which I missed back in May. The Alphagalileo piece provides a pile of more details, inter alia:

Because of the narrowness of the pit, the spokes of wheels had been broken, the wheels had been detached and placed at the walls of the pit. As a result of this action, the naves remained attached to the axles. In contrast to the wheels, the framework and the basket of the cart rested on their original places. The cart was supported by stones in order to be fixed in upright position. The fact that the axels, the framework and the basket of the cart were preserved in situ provided opportunity to define very precisely its type as well as the location of its parts.

The cart has no suspension; it is four-wheeled, with a short basket and a seat and is a very luxurious vehicle indeed. It was aimed to carry a charioteer (driver) and a passenger. At the front the basket was open; the two long sides of the basket are provided with timber beams, strengthened in the upper part with iron rims. The seat is at the back side of the basket.

All reconstructions of carts made until present were based on the assumption that this was a closed type of vehicle. The discovery of the Borissovo chariot offers the possibility to revise the reconstruction of this type of ancient vehicle. The surviving wooden and leather parts of the cart provide opportunity to define all details of its construction.

There is a boot (storage compartment) situated behind the back edge of the seat. It is a new element of the construction of this cart type. Until now it was believed that there were luggage boxes, which were attached to the four-wheeled carts. The boot found in situ proves that it was part of the Roman cart construction. Besides being there, the boot of this cart was full. A bronze ellipsoid pan and a set of a bronze ladle and a bronze strainer with long handles were lying on the bottom of the boot. There were also an iron grill on which were placed four prismatic and a large spherical glass bottles. Red slipped vessels – a small pitcher, a jar and a bowl – were placed in front of the bottles. A clay mortarium was found on top. The bronze artefacts are Italic imports. The bronze ladle is stamped on the handle with the name of the manufacturer. The four prismatic glass bottles were made by blowing in a mould and had been used for transporting and storing commodities. The large spherical glass bottle finds parallels in the Eastern Mediterranean and was most probably manufactured in a Syrian atelier.

The analysis of the position of the horses in front of the cart provided the conclusion that they had been killed in the pit. The horses were buried with lavishly decorated harnesses and a yoke. The iron bars were placed on the horses’ heads. The shape of the yoke can be reconstructed after the few traces of wood, the yoke rings found in situ and the silver ornaments of the horse collars. The yoke is abundantly decorated with bronze appliqués and has 13 bronze rings. The central ornament of the cart – an exquisite figurine of a panther on a solid bronze stand – was found on the shaft, between the skeletons of the two horses. A skeleton of a dog was unearthed behind the cart, tied up to it with a chain.

The chariot is dated back to the late 1st – the early 2nd century AD.

We also read of the contents of a second pit:

A second pit, which yielded two sacrificed riding horses of the Thracian warrior, was excavated immediately to the south of the first one. The horses’ skeletons were lying in an anatomical order next to each other. The iron bars were found between the horses’ teeth and the bronze halters and the ornaments of the horse collars were taken and thrown on top of their bodies. There were timber shields with solid bronze shield bosses placed on the lower part of the horses’ bodies. The shields are round, 1 m in diameter. They were covered with animal hide, fixed to the wooden part with bronze rivets.

East of the pit with the riding horses, the grave of the warrior, the owner of the chariot and the horses, was discovered under a special burial stone structure – a stone revetted tumulus, whose entrance faced the south. His body had been cremated there, in a two-stepped pit. The body had been placed on a special litter covered with a textile. The deceased had been buried in full armour: six iron spears, two swords, a poniard and spurs. One of the swards is double-edged and is 0.98 m long. It had been suspended on a leather strap decorated with gilded silver appliqués; its scabbard ends with a bronze tip with tracery patterns. On the knees of the deceased there were round bronze lamellae (probably used as greaves), which overlaid some kind of fabric. Two bronze silver-plated fibulae were found at the left shoulder and a highly patinated and burnt bronze coin was lying at the skull.

The medical and sporting accessories are represented by a bronze toilette box and two iron strigils. The strigils have iron strigil holders and before being placed into the grave pit, they had been wrapped into a textile. The toilette box has two bronze tubuses. In a special drawer of the box there are medications crushed into powder and medical instruments made from bronze.

Apart from being a warrior, the deceased had been a literate person. A ink-well, a bone tablet made of bone, a bronze stylus tied up with a chain to the tablet as well as a spatula, which would have been used to spread wax onto the writing tablet, had been laid beside the body.

After a ‘graph on some other grave goods, we read of the folks buried in this ‘family tomb':

Seven burials were unearthed under a stone structure in the center of the tumulus. Three of them yielded skeletons of adults and the grave goods provide ground to suggest that these were females. The shallow, rectangular grave pits yielded cremation burials and the cremation ritual had been performed in them.

The central burial is a female one. The dead body had been placed on a timber stretcher covered with a textile. The deceased had been buried with a large number of bronze, ceramic and glass vessels as well as with bronze, glass and bone personal ornaments. All bronze vessels had been ritually cut into pieces (killed) before being placed into the grave pit. The bronze appliqués for toilette boxes comprise beautiful figurines of eagles and swans, masks of satires and deities, busts of deities, etc. The burials yielded remains of wallnuts and raisins.

The second female burial yielded a skeleton of a young woman, which also had been laid on a timber stretcher covered with a textile. The woman had leather shoes decorated with gold foil. The grave goods include ceramic and glass vessels, an exquisite bronze mirror, a bone spindle with a bone spindle whirl for fine spin, a bone comb, a bronze hair pin and a miniature bronze spoon. Pieces of textiles were found at different places of the grave pit. Various textiles were found in the rest of the burials of adults as well.

Three of the burials are children’s ones and contained bones of babies. They had been buried in timber coffins, placed in grave pits. The grave goods comprise glass and ceramic vessels as well as bronze mirrors. The fact that the children were the only ones who had not been cremated indicates that they had been treated with a special care.

The last burial in this group is the cremation burial of a juvenile. Part of the cremated bones had been gathered and placed in a krater-shaped vessel. An amphora was placed in the grave pit as a grave gift.

via: Family Cemetery in a Roman Period Tumulus near the Village of Borissovo, Elhovo Region | Alphagalileo

There is quite a bit more to read at AlphaGalileo as well as five very interesting photos … sorry for lateness on this one folks; it seems to be very important.

Major Roman Canal from Portus!

The incipit of a very interesting item from the Telegraph:

Scholars discovered the 100-yard-wide (90-metre-wide) canal at Portus, the ancient maritime port through which goods from all over the Empire were shipped to Rome for more than 400 years.

The archaeologists, from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton and the British School at Rome, believe the canal connected Portus, on the coast at the mouth of the Tiber, with the nearby river port of Ostia, two miles away.

It would have enabled cargo to be transferred from big ocean-going ships to smaller river vessels and taken up the River Tiber to the docks and warehouses of the imperial capital.

Until now, it was thought that goods took a more circuitous overland route along a Roman road known as the Via Flavia.

“It’s absolutely massive,” said Simon Keay, the director of the three-year dig at Portus, the most comprehensive ever conducted at the site, which lies close to Rome’s Fiumicino airport, 20 miles west of the city.

“We know of other, contemporary canals which were 20-40 metres wide, and even that was big. But this was so big that there seems to have been an island in the middle of it, and there was a bridge that crossed it. It was unknown until now.”

The subterranean outline of the canal was found during a survey by Prof Martin Millett, of Cambridge University, using geophysical instruments which revealed magnetic anomalies underground.

The dig, which is being carried out in partnership with Italian archaeologists, is shedding light on the extraordinary trading network that the Romans developed throughout the Mediterranean basin, from Spain to Egypt and Asia Minor.

The archeologists have found evidence that trading links with North Africa in particular were far more extensive than previously believed. They have found hundreds of amphorae which were used to transport oil, wine and a pungent fermented fish sauce called garum, to which the Romans were particularly partial, from what is now modern Tunisia and Libya.

Huge quantities of wheat were also imported from what were then the Roman provinces of Africa and Egypt.

“What the recent work has shown is that there was a particular preference for large scale imports of wheat from North Africa from the late 2nd century AD right through to the 5th and maybe 6th centuries,” said Prof Keay.

[...]

via: ‘Biggest canal ever built by Romans’ discovered | Telegraph

90 metres wide! That’s huge! Where did the water come from to fill it?

Buckinghamshire’s Earliest ‘Recorded’ Resident

Here’s an incredibly interesting followup to that purported brothel/infanticide story from t’other day which likely isn’t going to make it beyond the local press:

A ROMAN woman living around 150-200 AD has become the earliest named Buckinghamshire resident ever to be recorded, Archaeologists say.

Siitomina, who is thought to have lived at the Yewden Villa in Hambleden, carved her name into a pot.

It was found at the same site as a mass infant burial – which archaeologists believe housed a Roman brothel.

Dr Eyers said the fact she was able to write was surprising because the Romans “didn’t like the local population getting too clever by being literate”.

She added it was even more unlikely considering she was a rural woman.

There were 70 styluses – an early form of pen – found on site.

Okay … is it just me or have the folks telling the press about this site totally misinterpreted it? Seventy styluses? Have styluses ever been found in such quantities at one site before ? I honestly don’t know, but surely that would suggest something other than ‘brotheling’ was going on at the site. We should also highlight this little paragraph from the Independent coverage we excerpted the other day (I didn’t include this paragraph in my excerpt):

In 1912, archaeologists found 60 iron styluses (Roman writing utensils) in the complex – a discovery which suggests that many of the inhabitants were scribes involved with some sort of record-keeping activity, potentially governmental or commercial administration. The early archaeologists also found 16 corn-drying kilns, suggesting that the complex was involved in large-scale agricultural processing. Historians know that at the time, food supplies including grain were being shipped from Britain by the Roman authorities to supply the Roman army on the Rhine.

And where this opinion about the Romans not liking the locals becoming literate claim comes from is beyond me. Previous coverage from the Bucks Free Press on the brothel thing includes the following:

Dr Eyers, who began her career as a geologist before switching to archaeology, said the findings are “hugely significant” for learning about Roman life in Britain.

She said: “We do need to do some more tests but if we are spot on this is the first. This is why everyone is so excited.

“This is the sort of information and data set that the Roman archaeologists have been looking for for years.”

Dr Eyers said she only expected it to be a small project when it began and was amazed by the flurry of media interest since Friday.

After interviews with television, radio and newspapers across the country, Dr Eyers is also set to appear on American news channel CNN.

“I feel like a celebrity and I’m a bit overwhelmed,” she said.

…. hmmm … I’ll let y’all form your own conclusions.

Another Gladiator Grave Claim — This Time Female?

The BBC seems to be first off the mark with this one, and it will likely be picked up:

Archaeologists in Herefordshire have uncovered the remains of what could possibly be a female gladiator.

Amongst the evidence of a Roman suburb in Credenhill, they have found the grave of a massive, muscular woman.

She was found in an elaborate wooden coffin, reinforced with iron straps and copper strips, which indicate her importance.

Her remains were found in a crouched position, in what could be a suburb of the nearby Roman town of Kenchester.

The archaeological Project Manager, Robin Jackson, said: “When we first looked at the leg and arm bones, the muscle attachments suggested it was quite a strapping big bloke, but the pelvis and head, and all the indicators of gender, say it’s a woman.”

“The coffin would have been made of wood – we haven’t got any of the wood left, but we’ve got the nails around the outside then three huge giant straps that run all the way around the coffin, and also bronze strips on the corners which would have probably strengthened it, but probably decorated it.

“It’s quite an elaborate and probably a very expensive coffin, and yet the person in it looked like they had a hard working life, and so there’s an anomaly there.”

An offering of beef and a fired pot were also found in the grave, and she was buried on top of a base of gravel.

Also unusual was the place where she was buried – in the suburb, instead of in a cemetery on the edge of the settlement, which was the law in Roman times.

Excavations

This archaeological find is as a result of excavations in advance of the construction of the Yazor Brook Flood Alleviation Scheme, which will protect homes and businesses in Hereford.

The road east from Kenchester was constructed by the Roman army in the mid 1st century AD, as they pushed westwards into Wales.

Very little was known previously about the suburb which grew up beside this road, however, preliminary results suggest that the main period of development for the suburb was the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, and that it was much more extensive and densely occupied than had previously been thought.

Trial work, undertaken in 2009, showed that the area contains the well-preserved remains of Roman buildings, yards and rubbish pits situated to either side of a major Roman road, which ran east out of the town.

These form part of an important Roman suburb, which developed alongside the road, but now lies buried, along with the rest of the town, beneath fields and a footpath.

A team of archaeologists from Worcestershire Historic Environment and Archaeology Service, working in close co-operation with Amey Consulting and Herefordshire Council’s archaeology team, are carefully excavating a 10-metre wide corridor, to allow the flood culvert to be built across this area.

A huge amount of information has already been gleaned, and this is beginning to allow the archaeologists to gain an understanding of this part of the town.

It is hoped that by the time the excavation is completed, at the end of July 2010, the archaeological team will have built up a detailed understanding of the development and nature of this Roman suburb.

The original report also includes a brief audio interview with the archaeologist (Robin Jackson) … much of it is transcribed in the above interview, of course, but something extremely important has been left out. We seem to start in medias res with:

It’s an outside possibility, but we have a very interesting female body on the site …

… so we wonder what that ‘outside possibility’ might be, then later we hear from the journalist after the ‘there’s an anomaly there’ bit in the written piece:

Because if it was somebody that was working in the fields, the strength came from that they would have been buried in a shroud out of the way of the way of the settlement. This is why we’re thinking she’s a fighting lady …

The response:

Well that’s one theory that can be pursued; I can’t say that I can come up with any better … [I omit bits about the burial, the joint of beef, the pot, etc. as evidence of 'elaboration' which doesn't "sit happily"] … so maybe the warrior idea is one that you can pursue, but I’ll leave that to peoples’ imaginations rather than what I formally write down.

So clearly we’re just dealing with some ‘thinking out loud’ rather than a formal theory at this point. I highly doubt we’re dealing with a female gladiator in these environs (someone like that would have surely been sent to Rome). The burial in the ‘crouched position’ would also suggest that she’s probably buried in a coffin that wasn’t made specifically for her … I wonder what other burials in the area are like.

UPDATE (A few hours later):

The incipit of a brief item from the Hereford Times:

EXPERTS at an archaelogical dig near Hereford say reports they have found an ancient gladiator are inaccurate.

A local radio station has this morning stated that a female warrior had been unearthed during the dig at Credenhill.

But Robin Jackson, of the Worcestershire Historic Environment and Archaeology Service, said the body was merely of a woman of “considerable stature” representing a lifetime of hard work.

Christian Necropolis from Bitola?

Tumbe Kafe stadion
Image via Wikipedia

The headline suggests — once again — that archaeologists are a rather clumsy lot:

During the reconstruction works of the Tumbe Kafe stadium and recreational zone in Macedonia’s south-western town of Bitola, archaeologists have found necropolises, most likely dating to the third century.

“All construction activities have been halted in order to examine the artefacts. The skeletons might belong to Christians, but the possibility of their being pagan is not ruled out either. It is believed that necropolises originate from the third century, because the deceased had been buried underground since,” archaeologist Gordana Filipovska-Lazarovska told national media today.

The archaeologists working at the site believe that the area might yield other archaeological findings. Therefore, they intend to ask for assistance and support at the national level, in order to continue their research.

Before construction activities were halted, the reconstruction of the Tumbe Kafe stadium and recreational zone was financed by the local self-government and international donations.

Tumbe Kafe Stadium is a multi-use stadium, which is currently used mostly for football matches. It is is the home stadium of FK Pelister and has a seating capacity of 6,100 people.

via Archaeologists Stumble Upon Ancient Necropolises During Stadium Reconstruction | Balkan Travellers.

Temple and Bridge from Near Apamea

This one from Sify/ANI is annoyingly lacking in details … I can’t find a name for al-Bahred in ancient times, but it seems to be the right distance away from Apamea to be a mansio at least …:

Archaeologists have unearthed an archaeological temple dating back to the Hellenistic and Roman eras.

They have also found a stone-made bridge dating back to the Roman era.

The findings were uncovered in the village of al-Bared River, 20 kms to the west north of Apamea, central Syrian Province of Hama, reports the Global Arab Network.

According to Director of Hama Antiquities Department, Jamal Ramadan, the temple was built in Hellenistic architectural style, of 210-centimeters long and 170-cenetimeters wide stones inscribed from their internal side.

The unearthed stone-made bridge dates back to the Roman Era, and is 10-meter long and 3-meter wide with three asymmetric arches.

Another version:

Infanticide at Buckinghamshire Brothel? I Doubt It …

As is typical, when life is most hectic comes the time when the most interesting bloggables start flashing past me on Twitter, Facebook, and in email. I can’t get to them all today, but I do want to quickly comment an item from the Telegraph regarding possible evidence of infanticide associated with remains of a Roman ‘brothel’ in Buckinghamshire:

An extensive study of a mass burial at a Roman villa in the Thames Valley suggests that the 97 children all died at 40 weeks gestation, or very soon after birth.

The archaeologists believe that locals may have been killing and burying unwanted babies on the site in Hambleden, Buckinghamshire.

Unwanted pregnancies were common in Roman brothels due to little contraception and Romans also considered infanticide less shocking than it is today.

Infants were not considered to be human beings until about the age of two and were not buried in cemeteries if they were younger than that.

Consequently, infant burials tended to be at domestic sites in the Roman era.

“The only explanation you keep coming back to is that it’s got to be a brothel,” Dr Jill Eyers, of Chiltern Archaeology, told the BBC.
Experts say that the number of children killed at Yewden villa in Hambleden is unusually large.

“There is no other site that would yield anything like the 97 infant burials,” said Dr Simon Mays, a skeletal biologist at English Heritage’s Centre for Archaeology, who has been investigating the finds.

There is possibly some compression of thought going on here, either by the archaeologist or the journalist or both. The brothel suggestion is likely connected to a similar sort of find at Ashkelon over a decade ago, although in that situation the remains were found in the drainage system beneath a bathing complex. But there seems to be a bit of circularity going on here, no? A pile of dead babies suggest a brothel nearby. A brothel nearby suggests the babies must have been unwanted, and so killed on purpose. What I don’t understand is why if these babies were unwanted ‘ab initio’ as it were, why they wouldn’t simply have been aborted. It’s not as if the ancient Greeks and Romans weren’t aware of abortion.

The babies were all found to be of roughly the same size, suggesting systematic infanticide at birth rather than death from natural causes, which would have struck infants at different ages, Dr Mays added.

… which is not really the Roman practice; not sure about native Briton-types. As far as we can tell from our sources, unwanted Roman infants were “exposed” and wouldn’t likely have been buried at all if they died.

The Hambleden site, close to the River Thames, was excavated 100 years ago and identified as a high status Roman villa.
Alfred Heneage Cocks, an archaeologist, reported the findings in 1921. His report, along with photographs, and hundreds of artefacts, pottery and bones were recently rediscovered at Buckinghamshire County Museum.

The records gave precise locations for the infant bodies, which were hidden under walls or buried under courtyards close to each other.

The remains are now being tested for the first time by English Heritage.

The team plans to carry out DNA tests on the skeletons in a bid to establish their sex and possible relationship to each other.

The Hambleden investigation features in a new BBC TV archaeology series, Digging for Britain presented by Dr Alice Roberts, to be broadcast on BBC Two in July and August.

An important detail which is left out of all this is the date of the Hambledon site … presumably this is the Yewden Roman Villa, as the Mill End Villa doesn’t seem to have been excavated. A page on the site tells us the date: the site was used from the first to the fourth centuries A.D.. Hopefully there is enough information in the notes from the original excavation (1912) or datable organic materic material to establish some dates for the remains. 97 infant burials sounds like a lot, but when you spread it over three centuries it isn’t so sensational. As such, while an epidemic seems unlikely,depending on how the remains are dated, one could speculate that these are all stillborn remains …

via: Romans killed babies at brothel | Telegraph

UPDATE (06/27/10): David Keys in the Independent provides a good summary of the possible explanations:

Some argue that the Hambleden complex might have been a Roman imperial agricultural administrative and processing centre serving a relatively large area. The dead infants could represent a mixture of still births, natural perinatal deaths and infanticide victims, born to women employed at the centre. Some of the infants may have been born with deformities – a fact that would have made them particularly vulnerable to infanticide.

Some archaeologists have suggested the infants were children of prostitutes serving the potentially large staff at the complex, although it would be archeologically unprecedented to find a brothel in a non-urban context.

Alternatively, the site could have had a partly religious function with the infants being the subjects of illegal rituals or even human sacrifice. Certainly newborn infants were sometimes buried as ritual foundation deposits in Roman Britain – though never in such large numbers.

… and a tip o’ the pileus to Terrence Lockyer for drawing our attention to the excellent blog post on the subject over at Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives (Rosemary Joyce), which delves into the claims about lack of contraception and the identity of the site as a brothel:

For some background on prostitution in the ancient world:

More coverage:

Roman Fort in Cornwall?

Roman Roads in Britain around 150 AD/CE.
Image via Wikipedia

From the Telegraph:

Pottery and other evidence suggesting the presence of an ironworks have been found at the undisclosed location near St Austell, Cornwall.

Experts say the discovery challenges the belief that Romans did not settle in the county and stopped in neighbouring Devon.

The site had previously been regarded as an Iron Age settlement but the recent discovery of pottery and glass was found to be of Roman origin.

John Smith, from Cornwall Historic Environment Service, said: ”This is a major discovery, no question about it.

”For Roman Britain it’s an important and quite crucial discovery because it tells us a lot about Roman occupation in Britain that was hitherto completely unexpected.

”In finding the pottery and glass, it’s saying the occupation goes to about 250AD, which turns the whole thing on its head.”

Archaeological Jonathan Clemes discovered various artefacts by studying the earth after it had been ploughed.
He said: ”You’ve got to know your pottery. If you come across a bit of pottery and you know what it is, it can tell you a great deal about the activity that went on in that area.”

Following the discovery of the artefacts a geophysical survey uncovered a fort and a marching camp.

Prior to the discovery it was believed that Roman forts had only been positioned close to the Devon border before the Roman’s left the region for south Wales.

It will now be considered whether to excavate the area or to leave it for a future excavation when techniques have advanced.

The map shows the ‘current view’ of Roman settlement (generally) in Britain; if the St Austell thing proves true, perhaps there will be more evidence further west as well …

via Romans ‘may have settled as far south-west as Cornwall’ | Telegraph.

More from Sofia/Serdica

On the heels of last week’s announcement of the opening of a major Roman site to the public, the Sofia News Agency tells us that archaeologists are on the trail (they hope) of Constantine’s palace there too:

A large ancient building located under the St. Nedelya Cathedral in downtown Sofia might turn out to be a palace of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, according to Bulgarian archaeologists.

The building might also turn out to be the ancient thermae, or public baths of the ancient Roman city of Serdica, today’s Sofia, according to architect Konstantin Peev, head of the EKSA company, which is helping the Sofia Municipality with the excavation and restoration of the archaeological heritage of the Bulgarian capital.

The excavations at the Sofia Largo and the so called Metro Station 2-8 next to the Tzum retail store were made necessary by the construction of the second line of the Sofia Metro.

According to Peev, the bouleuterion of the city of Serdica was located under the northwestern corner of today’s building of the Sheraton Sofia Hotel Balkan. The bouleuterion was a small amphitheater-like building which housed the council of the citizens in the Antiquity period. The Serdica bouleuterion had a diameter of about 20 meters.

Peev also said that the archeaological excavations in the spring of 2010 have so far revealed a number of Roman insula, i.e. homes closed off among four streets.

He pointed out that the archaeologists have revealed the main streets of the Roman city of Serdica – the main street, decumanus maximus, connecting the Eastern and Western Gates, was wide about 7-8 meters and paved with huge pave stones. The cardo, the secondary street, went in the north-south direction.

Architect Peev stated that the municipality and the Culture Ministry were currently considering various options for conserving and displaying the archeaological heritage of Sofia.

via Bulgarian Archaeologists Hope to Find Constantine’s Palace | Sofia News Agency.

Gladiators in York: Followup

Bronze medallion depicting the fight between a...
Image via Wikipedia

Brief item from York Press:

A SKELETON – thought to be the remains of a Roman gladiator – has gone on display in York.

The skeleton is on display at the Jorvik Viking Centre from today.

It is one of 80 skeletons unearthed in the city by York Archaeological Trust over the last seven years.

The skeleton, which was the subject of a TV documentary last week, displays one of the most significant pieces of evidence supporting the lead archaeological theory that the skeletons are the remains of Roman gladiators – a large carnivore bite mark believed to have been inflicted by a lion, tiger or bear, probably in the arena.

John Walker, York Archaeological Trust chief executive, said: “The skeletons have been the subject of global interest over the last week. We want to give people the opportunity to see for themselves some of the evidence that our archaeologists have worked with to develop their theories on the skeletons’ origins.

via Roman gladiator remains go on display in York | York Press.

Of course, to be pedantic, if the guy was killed by a wild beast he probably technically wasn’t a gladiator; more likely someone involved in a venatio or  condemned ad bestias (which I personally think would be a more interesting angle) …

Previous coverage:

Gladiator Graveyard?
Gladiator Graveyard Followup