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:

Bryn Mawr Classical Reviews

… always seem to be in catchup mode:


  • 2013.09.02:  Roshdi Rashed, Abu Kamil. Algèbre et analyse diophantienne: édition, traduction et commentaire. Scientia Graeco-Arabica, Bd 9.
  • 2013.09.03:  Response: Golitsis on Fazzo on Golitsis on Fazzo, Il libro Lambda della Metafisica.
    Response by Pantelis Golitsis.
  • 2013.09.04:  Giuseppe Mariotta, Adalberto Magnelli, Diodoro Siculo. Biblioteca storica, Libro IV: commento storico. Storia : Ricerche. bmcr2
  • 2013.09.05:  Benjamin Isaac, Yuval Shahar, Judaea-Palaestina, Babylon and Rome: Jews in Antiquity. Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism, 147.
  • 2013.09.06:  Allan Gotthelf, Teleology, First Principles and Scientific Method in Aristotle’s Biology. Oxford Aristotle Studies.
  • 2013.09.07:  Stefano Dentice di Accadia Ammone, Omero e i suoi oratori: tecniche di persuasione nell’Iliade. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde. Band 302.
  • 2013.09.08:  Voula N. Bardani, Stephen V. Tracy, Inscriptiones Atticae Euclidis anno posteriores. Ed. tertia. Pars I: Leges et decreta; Fasc. V: Leges et Decreta annorum 229/8-168/7. Inscriptiones Graecae, II/III.3 1, 5.
  • 2013.09.09:  Massimiliano Canuti, Basco ed etrusco: due lingue sottoposte all’influsso indoeuropeo. Studia erudita, 7.
  • 2013.09.10:  William Desmond, Philosopher-Kings of Antiquity.
  • 2013.09.11:  Marco Fantuzzi, Achilles in Love. Intertextual Studies.
  • 2013.09.12:  Ulrich Schmitzer, Enzyklopädie der Philologie: Themen und Methoden der Klassischen Philologie heute. Vertumnus, Bd 11.
  • 2013.09.13:  Martin Worthington, Complete Babylonian: A Teach Yourself Guide (Revised edition; first published 2010). Teach yourself.
  • 2013.09.14:  Amanda Wilcox, The Gift of Correspondence in Classical Rome: Friendship in Cicero’s ‘Ad Familiares’ and Seneca’s ‘Moral Epistles’. Wisconsin Studies in Classics.
  • 2013.09.15:  Claudio Gallazzi, Bärbel Kramer, Salvatore Settis, Intorno al Papiro di Artemidoro II: Geografia e Cartografia. Atti del Convegno internazionale del 27 novembre 2009 presso la Società Geografica Italiana. Villa Celimontana, Roma. Colloquium.
  • 2013.09.16:  Roger Brock, Greek Political Imagery from Homer to Aristotle.
  • 2013.09.17:  Attilio Mastrocinque, Kronos, Shiva, and Asklepios: Studies in Magical Gems and Religions of the Roman Empire. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 101, pt 5.
  • 2013.09.18:  Henry J. M. Day, Lucan and the Sublime: Power, Representation and Aesthetic Experience. Cambridge classical studies.
  • 2013.09.19:  Richard Hingley, Hadrian’s Wall: A Life.
  • 2013.09.20:  Tommaso Braccini, La fata dai piedi di mula: licantropi, streghe e vampiri nell’Oriente greco.
  • 2013.09.21:  Franco Montanari, Antonios Rengakos, Christos Tsagalis, Homeric Contexts: Neoanalysis and the Interpretation of Oral Poetry. Trends in classics – supplementary volumes, 12.
  • 2013.09.22:  Tiziana Pellucchi, Commento al libro VIII delle Argonautiche di Valerio Flacco. Spudasmata, 146.
  • 2013.09.23:  S. Douglas Olson, The Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite and Related Texts: Text, Translation and Commentary. Texte und Kommentare 39.
  • 2013.09.24:  Giles Pearson, Aristotle on Desire.
  • 2013.09.25:  Manuel Baumbach, Wolfgang Polleichtner, Innovation aus Tradition: literaturwissenschaftliche Perspektiven der Vergilforschung. BAC – Bochumer Altertumswissenschaftliches Colloquium, Bd 93.
  • 2013.09.26:  Ineke Sluiter, Ralph M. Rosen, Aesthetic Value in Classical Antiquity. Mnemosyne supplements. Monographs on Greek and Latin language and literature, 350.
  • 2013.09.27:  Serenella Ensoli, For the Preservation of the Cultural Heritage in Libya: A Dialogue among Institutions. Proceedings of conference, 1–2 July 2011, Monumental complex of Belvedere, San Leucio, Caserta. Kypana. Libya in the ancient world, 1.
  • 2013.09.28:  Florin Curta, The Edinburgh History of the Greeks, c. 500 to 1050: The Early Middle Ages.
  • 2013.09.29:  Sylvian Fachard, La défense du territoire: étude de la chôra érétrienne et de ses fortifications. Eretria: fouilles et recherches, 21​.
  • 2013.09.30:  Olof Brandt, San Lorenzo in Lucina: The Transformations of a Roman Quarter. Skrifter Utgivna av Svenska Institutet i Athen / Acta Instituti Atheniensis Regni Sueciae, 4, 61.
  • 2013.09.31:  Beatrice Larosa, P. Ovidii Nasonis Epistula Ex Ponto III 1: testo, traduzione e commento. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde, Bd 308.
  • 2013.09.32:  D. L. Stone, D. J. Mattingly, N. Ben Lazreg, Leptiminus (Lamta), Report No. 3: The Field Survey. JRA Supplementary series 87.
  • 2013.09.33:  Deborah J. Lyons, Dangerous Gifts: Gender and Exchange in Ancient Greece.
  • 2013.09.34:  Salvatore De Vincenzo, Tra Cartagine e Roma: i centri urbani dell’eparchia punica di Sicilia tra VI e I sec. a.C. Topoi: Berlin studies of the ancient world, 8.
  • 2013.09.35:  Carmine Catenacci, Il tiranno e l’eroe: storia e mito nella Grecia antica. Lingue e letterature Carocci, 145.
  • 2013.09.36:  Paul J. du Plessis, New Frontiers: Law and Society in the Roman World.
  • 2013.09.37:  Ada Caruso, Akademia: archeologia di una scuola filosofica ad Atene da Platone a Proclo (387 a.C. – 485 d.C). SATAA: Studi di Archeologia e di Topografia di Atene e dell’Attica, 6.
  • 2013.09.38:  Mario Capasso, Paola Davoli, Soknopaiou Nesos Project, I (2003-2009). Biblioteca di studi di egittologia e di papirologia, 9.
  • 2013.09.39:  Arnaud Macé, Choses privées et chose publique en Grèce ancienne. Genèse et structure d’un système de classification. Collection HOROS.
  • 2013.09.40:  Martin J. Cropp, Euripides: Electra. Second edition (first published 1988). Aris and Phillips classical texts.
  • 2013.09.41:  John J. Cleary, Studies on Plato, Aristotle and Proclus: Collected Essays on Ancient Philosophy of John J. Cleary. (Edited by John Dillon, Brendan O’Byrne, Fran O’Rourke). Ancient Mediterranean and medieval texts and contexts. Studies in Platonism, Neoplatonism, and the Platonic tradition, 15.
  • 2013.09.42:  Milette Gaifman, Aniconism in Greek Antiquity. Oxford studies in ancient culture and representation.
  • 2013.09.43:  Alberto J. Quiroga Puertas, The Purpose of Rhetoric in Late Antiquity: From Performance to Exegesis. Studien und Texte zu Antike und Christentum / Studies and Texts in Antiquity and Christianity,72.
  • 2013.09.44:  Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, King and Court in Ancient Persia 559 to 331 BCE. Debates and documents in ancient history. Edinburgh: 2013. Pp. xxix, 258. $40.00 (pb). ISBN 9780748641253.
    Reviewed by Pierre Briant.

Sacred Well from Portsmouth

From the News comes another tale of clumsy archaeologists:

Buried a few feet under a garden in the centre of Havant, archaeologists stumbled upon a Roman well filled with coins and a bronze ring with a carving of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea.

Perhaps most intriguing was the discovery of eight dog skeletons at the bottom of the well.

Experts believe the dogs, which were worshipped in some ancient religions, may have been dropped down the ‘sacred well’ as a sacrifice to the gods.

The excavation was done at Homewell House, a Georgian property behind St Faith’s Church that is undergoing renovation.

Dr Andy Russel, from Southampton Archaeology Unit, told The News: ‘I would say it’s a pretty amazing find.

‘We have done a few sites in Havant before and found Roman bits and pieces but nothing on this scale of a beautifully constructed well with coins, a ring and this strange deposit of dogs in it.

‘I’ve never come across a deposit of dogs down a Roman pit or well before – it’s intriguing.’

The well, dated at between 250 and 280AD, is made of stone from the Isle of Wight.

Dr Russel added: ‘We have found post holes where people have put up buildings in the posts. There’s no sign of stone buildings. This is not a Fishbourne Roman Palace. Wooden buildings probably made up the settlement.’

The dogs showed wounds that had healed, indicating they may have been used for dog fighting.

Archaeologists believe the ring may have been dropped down the well by a Roman sailor, perhaps praying for safe passage home on the stormy seas.

The original article includes a photo of the ring, and it seems kind of iffy to me that it is Neptune (as opposed to some guy with a stick). As for the dogs, Jacopo De Grossi Mazzorin and Claudia Minniti, “Dog Sacrifice in the Ancient World: A Ritual Passage?” have collected some earlier evidence which suggests their presence might have been some sort of expiatory thing associated with the closing of the well (paper at