16 February 2019

The Romans took their graffiti seriously - especially phalluses

In Rome they signified good luck and warded off the evil eye, but in the occupied provinces such as Britannia, they were meant to intimidate the natives.

The rush to record inscriptions made in a Cumbrian quarry in AD 207 has cast a spotlight on the rich legacy of graffiti in Britain by the Romans. Masons sourcing stone blocks for the nearby fortifications of Hadrian's Wall carved a date, a phallus and the caricature of an officer. They were not alone in leaving their mark. Hunting for images of phalluses is one of the great pleasures of walking the wall. Look hard enough, and they can be found repeatedly along its line.

Graffiti was always a mark of Roman life. In Rome, the right to draw it was widely regarded as a civic prerogative. In a society rigidly stratified by wealth and rank it provided an essential safety valve. Slogans scrawled across the city served up to everyone who could read such a relentless dishing of dirt that people fretted that its sheer weight might bring walls crashing down. Even the illiterate would defecate on the monuments of those who had offended them. Soldiers, by virtue of the oath of duty they swore when signing up to the army, had abdicated the rights that were the essence of citizenship - but many were the legionaries who sought to ease their boredom by scratching doodles on quarry walls. Tiles stamped with a unit's name would often bear graffiti. Ferocious though military discipline was, it did not serve to iron out all the habits of civilian life.

Which was why, carved on to bridge abutments, mile castles and the courtyards of headquarters, phalluses were such an invariable feature of the empire's northern frontier. The preoccupation with male genitalia was common across the Roman world. In Rome, the phallus was everywhere to be seen, protecting doorways as a symbol of good luck, guarding crossroads, or scaring off birds in gardens.

''Naturally, to provincials in a military zone such as the one stretching south from Hadrians Wall, the implications tended to be alarming. A phallus that in Rome might serve as a good luck symbol was liable to appear far more menacing when it appeared above the doorway of a fort. To any native straying into the vicinity of Hadrians Wall without the requisite documentation, it would have served as a peculiarly intimidating reminder of Roman power. Rape was an accepted way for the military to enforce their authority. It was the rape of Boudicca and her daughters, after all, that precipitated a crisis that almost reversed the conquest of Britain.

--A penis was not simply a penis. Its association with weaponry swords, spears, arrows was taken for granted by everyone who spoke Latin. Hardwired into the language was the assumption that to rape someone was to stab them. A legionary, when he fought, would thrust with his sword at the stomach of his enemy, spilling out the guts, desanguinating his foe. No less than the sword, the penis served a Roman soldier as the emblem of his power.

'The masons who 1,812 years ago carved a phallus on the Written Rock of Gelt at Hadrians Wall were not just indulging in a bit of Carry On-style cheekiness. They were making a statement that every native would have understood. At much the same time, at the opposite end of the empire, a traveller named Lauricius was riding through Jordan. At Wadi Rum, he paused to carve his own piece of graffiti. There was no phallus this time, but the message was identical. “The Romans always win.”

The Romans took their graffiti seriously - especially phalluses

The Gallery

30 January 2019

Student Discovers Rare 2000-Year Old Coin near Shiloh

An ancient and rare coin from the time of King Agrippa I and the last days of the Second Temple was discovered by a student at Nachal Shiloh (Shiloh stream) in Samaria. The student was on a school trip at Nachal Shiloh last week, when he found the ancient coin in the eastern part of the stream. The student approached the group’s tour guide, who in turn contacted the IDF’s Archeology unit at the Civil Administration, which dispatched an inspector to the site.

Herod Agrippa, a.k.a. Herod or Agrippa I, was a King of Judea from 11 BCE to 44 CE, father of Herod Agrippa II, the last King from the Herodian dynasty. After the assassination of Caligula in 41, Agrippa was involved in the struggle over the accession between Claudius, the Praetorian Guard, and the Senate. After becoming Emperor, Claudius gave Agrippa dominion over Judea and Samaria and granted him the ornamenta consularia (consular insignia), and at his request gave the kingdom of Chalcis in Lebanon to Agrippa’s brother Herod of Chalcis. Thus Agrippa became one of the most powerful kings of the east. His domain more or less equaled that which was held by his grandfather Herod the Great.

Agrippa built a theater and amphitheater, baths, and porticoes in the city of Berytus (modern Beirut). He was equally generous in Sebaste, Heliopolis and Caesarea. He also began the construction of the third and outer wall of Jerusalem, but did not complete the fortifications. His friendship was courted by many of the neighboring kings and rulers, some of whom he hosted in Tiberias, which made Emperor Claudius suspicious of his intentions. One side of the discovered coin shows three sheaves of wheat, the other a royal canopy surrounded by the inscription “King Agrippa.”

“This is a moving find,” said Hanania Hezmi, the IDF officer in charge of Archeology at the Civil Administration. “Every archaeological find has a story behind it that sheds more light on the history of the Land of Israel and the people of Israel,” he added. “These finds complete another part of the puzzle of the history of our people.”

The coin was transferred to the Archaeological Staff Officer in the Civil Administration and will be preserved as part of the state’s treasures.

Student Discovers Rare 2000-Year Old Coin near Shiloh

30 January 2019

Greek and Roman Artifacts Discovered in Alexandria

The Archaeological Mission of Alexandria Antiquities, which works at the Tuba Metwah site in Al-Amriyah, northern Cairo, uncovered a collection of artifacts dating back to the Greek and Roman eras.

Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Mostafa Waziri, confirmed that this is a “unique discovery because the site was being used for industrial and commercial purposes.” "One of the most important elements of the archaeological findings is a set of interconnected walls with clear construction and designing methods. Some walls were built with non-symmetrical stones, while others were built with carefully cut stones," Waziri added.

Head of the Egyptian Antiquities Sector Ayman Ashmawy stated: "A large number of ovens were also discovered as separate units inside the walls, which have been rebuilt and renovated more than once." According to Ashmawy, most of these ovens were used to prepare food, as bird and fish bones were found inside. This large number of ovens indicates that this place was used as a service unit for militants or camps, he noted. During the first phase of excavation, a cemetery and a fountain were also found.

Head of the Central Department of the Effects of the Sea, Nadia Khedr said: "The discovered artifacts also include cooking utensils of different sizes, as well as large quantities of pottery vessels indicating that this area dates back to the first and second centuries BC.” "We also discovered a number of lampstands featuring unique decorations, such as a crescent and a statue for god Serapis, along with a glass bottle that was probably used to store perfume, and a different set of bronze coins that are being processed and investigated," she added.

And from Alexandria to the north, to the new Valley of the South, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities also announced the discovery of gold coins dating back to the Byzantine era, in the region of Ain Sabil in Dakhla in the New Valley governorate (southwest of Cairo). "The coins date back to the rule of Byzantine Emperor Constantine II, who lived between 317 and 361 AD. The empire took over from 337 to 361," said Dr. Jamal Mustafa, head of the Islamic, Coptic, and Jewish Antiquities Department in the ministry. Mustafa added that “each of these coins has two faces, the first features a picture of the emperor in different positions, surrounded by some words including his name, while the others feature some drawings and writings that indicate the coin's minting date."

Greek and Roman Artifacts Discovered in Alexandria

The Gallery

18 January 2019

Ancient Mosaics Dated To The First Century Discovered In Southern Turkey

Ancient mosaics have been discovered at a construction site in southern Turkey's Osmaniye province. The mosaics, believed to date back to the first century, were found during digging in Dere neighborhood of Kadirli district. The construction site has been declared as an archaeological site and secured.

“One of the mosaics has a radish on it. It also has a human figure holding grapes and a partridge in his hand. This shows that radishes have been farmed in our region since the first century,” said provincial culture and tourism director Burhan Torun in a press release. “Here we find the mythological characters equivalent to Zeugma. This study will shed light on Kadirli’s history. Also we found the first written document regarding Kadirli on those mosaics,” Torun added.

The Zeugma excavation site is in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep. Many beautiful mosaics were discovered in Zeugma, which is considered one of the most important centers in the Eastern Roman Empire. As a result of Alexander the Great's policy of mixing Greek people with indigenous populations, Zeugma had a symbolic value – it was an allegory of cultural amalgamation.

Originally, the ancient city of Zeugma was founded as a Greek settlement by Seleucus I Nicator, one of the generals of Alexander the Great, in 300 BC. The city was called "Zeugma", because of the bridge across the Euphrates River, made of pontoons and connecting the two banks of the river. In ancient Greek, "zeugma" means “bridge” or “crossing”. The ancient term Zeugma actually referred to the twin cities on the opposing banks of the river. Zeugma was one of the gateways to Mesopotamia, placed on the Euphrates River, and its history can be traced back into antiquity.

Today the name Zeugma usually refers to the settlement on the west bank, called Seleucia on the Euphrates after Seleucus I, the founder.

Ancient Mosaics Dated To The First Century Discovered In Southern Turkey

12 January 2019

British Museum Goes Belly Up!

The British Museum has realised that a 'vase' in it's collection is in fact an ancient mace-head displayed upside down.

Curators discovered the old mistake during research for an exhibition titled 'No Man's Land'.

Inspired by some contemporary photographs shot in southern Iraq, the British Museum has mounted No Man’s Land (until 27 January), a small exhibition attesting to man’s chronic inability to exist peacefully within agreed borders. The exhibition showcases three ancient objects that tell the story of the first recorded border conflict, a clash between two Sumerian city states in the third millennium BC, while juxtaposing them with the modern photographs. Inscriptions on two of the objects document the viewpoints of the ancient city states of Lagash and Umma, with each side invoking claims to disputed territory supposedly allotted them by the gods.

In a bit of serendipity, the curators realised during research for the show that an object they had long assumed was a vase had actually been displayed upside down. They now understand that it is actually the head of a fired-clay mace, or heavy club, made for King Gishakidu of Umma. After comparing the object with a similar one at Yale University, “we realised how daft we’d been”, says Irving Finkel, a co-curator of the show. Now displayed right-side up, the mace head is topped by a painted representation of a net that was used to immobilise enemies for execution.

The Umma Mace-head dates to the Early Dynastic period, c. 2400 BC.

British Museum Goes Belly Up!

10 January 2019

Roman homes unearthed next to Colchester's Mercury Theatre

Archaeologists have unearthed the mosaic floors of a number of Roman homes next to a theatre complex in Colchester, Essex, UK. As well as Roman floors and home foundations, archaeologists have also found a number of items including a bone dice and a candle holder.

The dig is part of an £8.9m extension and refurbishment of the Mercury Theatre, which sits next to the town's Roman wall. The tessellated flooring found at the site suggests the occupants were "well off", say archaeologists. The floors of the Roman houses are thought to be 2nd or 3rd Century AD. "This was clearly a fairly well-off part of Roman Colchester," said lead archaeologist Philip Crummy. "In Colchester of the 2nd Century, the homes often had tessellated or mosaic floors, under floor heating, piped water and painted walls - just like some of the houses you would find in the Mediterranean. "What we see here ranks near the middle standard of home. We have seen some lovely fragments of painted wall plaster. "Its been very interesting and rewarding to be given the chance to investigate this."

Building work is expected to start at the site once the dig is completed. Archaeologists have mapped out all the finds and discoveries made at the site. The Mercury extension will be built on piles which will be installed away from the most significant of the Roman flooring finds. "The floors we are looking at are typically second and third century," said Mr Crummy. "What we can tell from the remains lying on the floors is that these buildings were left derelict to stand."

Finds include an iron object about 15in (38cm) in length and a coin dating to about AD360. "We've found a tiny little dice as small as a finger nail," said Mr Crummy, "which suggests people were spending happy hours playing dice. "There's also a good looking counter, like a piece of tile which has been shaped, which we assume was used in games."

The theatre's regeneration project has been awarded funding worth £7m from Arts Council England, Colchester Council and Essex County Council but has been seeking the remaining £1.9m needed from public donations.

Signs on main roads into Colchester proclaim it to be Britain's oldest town. It was called Camulodunum, which is a Romanisation of its Iron-Age name: the Fortress (-dunum) of Camulos, God of War. Camulodunum was a hugely important site in pre-Roman times. It was most likely the royal stronghold of the Trinovantes, on whose behalf Julius Caesar invaded in 55 and 54 BC. In 60 or 61 AD, while the Roman governor Gaius Suetonius Paullinus was leading a campaign in North Wales, Boudicca's Iceni warriors burnt it to the ground.

Roman homes unearthed next to Colchester's Mercury Theatre

Roman bronze aryballos found near Colchester

7 December 2018

Stonehenge site 'damaged' by engineers working on tunnel

Road workers have been accused of damaging a 6,000-year-old site near Stonehenge as part of preparations for a controversial tunnel. Highways England engineers monitoring water levels dug the 3.5 metre deep bore hole through the prehistoric platform which is about 1.5 miles (2.4km) from Stonehenge and believed to date from around 4,000 BC.

Lead archaeologist at the site Professor David Jacques from the University of Buckingham described it as "a travesty". He said engineers did not consult him before carrying out the work, but Highways England said no archaeological damage had been caused and its engineers "adhered to guidelines".

The proposed tunnel is part of a £1.6bn programme to upgrade the A303, which links the M3 from London to the M5 in the south west. The government wants to build the 1.9-mile (3km) tunnel past Stonehenge to hide the busy A303, but campaigners claim it could destroy archaeological treasures. Perfectly preserved hoof prints of wild cattle known as aurochs have recently been found at the Blick Mead encampment in Wiltshire. The prints found under the platform were preserved in what appears to be a ritualistic manner, Prof Jacques said. Construction on the tunnel and linking flyover would lower the water table, drying out the peat and silt conditions which preserve archaeological remains, he added, "This is a travesty. We took great care to excavate this platform and the auroch's hoofprints, if the tunnel goes ahead the water table will drop and all the organic remains will be destroyed. If the remains aren't preserved we may never be able to understand why Stonehenge was built."

A Highways England spokesman said its water table monitoring scheme "will have no significant effects on the Blick Mead area". "We do not have any evidence that our monitoring, the location of which we shared with Professor Jacques, has caused any damage to the site and we have asked for further clarification of this," he said. "At Prof Jacques' request, we have been monitoring water conditions at Blick Mead to demonstrate that the scheme will have no impact on the site." He added that they sought further input about the sites from Prof Jacques in November.

Inspectors have now met with Prof Jacques to assess the work and have been discussing areas for further testing at the Blick Mead site.

Stonehenge site 'damaged' by engineers working on tunnel

The Gallery

1 December 2018

Pompeii dig reveals erotic Leda and Swan fresco

Archaeologists at Pompeii have found an erotic Roman fresco depicting Leda and the Swan - a Greek myth that has inspired artists for centuries. Leda was an important figure in Greek mythology, she was said to have borne children fathered by the god Zeus, the Greek version of Jupiter, and by a mortal king of Sparta. According to myth, her children included the beautiful Helen of Troy and the twins Castor and Pollux.

The swan's seduction of Leda was a potent subject for artists in Renaissance Italy in the 16th Century: it inspired paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Tintoretto, and many other artworks. The original works by Leonardo and Michelangelo are missing, but copies are on display in galleries. Leda and the Swan is also a classic poem by William Butler Yeats, a major figure in 20th-Century literature.

This latest find is believed to have decorated a bedroom in a wealthy home near the ancient city centre. The find is on Via del Vesuvio, in the site's Regio V area. The bedroom is located near a corridor by the entranceway of an upscale domus, or home, where another splendid fresco was discovered earlier this year.

Pompeii’s archaeological park director, Massimo Osanna, praised this fresco as exceptional since it was painted to make it appear Leda was looking at whoever saw the fresco upon entering the bedroom. “Leda watches the spectator with a sensuality that’s absolutely pronounced,” Osanna told the Italian news agency Ansa.

The fresco’s details include a depiction of Leda protecting the swan with her cloak as the bird sits on her lap. Osanna noted the fresco’s context of the Greek “myth of love, with an explicit sensuality in a bedroom where, obviously beside sleep, there could be other activities”.

The fresco, with its colours still remarkably vivid, was discovered during continuing work to consolidate the ancient city’s structures after rains and wear-and-tear caused some ruins to collapse, the tourist site’s officials said. Osanna said one hypothesis was that the home’s owner was a rich merchant who wanted to give the impression he was culturally advanced by incorporating myth-inspired frescoes. It appeared the artist was inspired by a fourth-century BC sculpture by Timotheos, he said.

Because of safety concerns, unexcavated parts of the domus will probably remain that way. Archaeologists are considering removing both frescoes found in the home to a place where “they can be protected and shown to the public”, Osanna said.

Pompeii dig reveals erotic Leda and Swan fresco

24 November 2018

Egypt's Lost Tomb: Revealed

The discovery of the first sealed tomb in the Valley of the Kings for 100 years, revealing a tale of of ancient Egyptian grave robbing, desecration and the rise of a new elite.

In 2011, Swiss archaeologists came across the sealed entrance to a previously undiscovered tomb, where they found the remains of a dismembered mummy and a coffin that was apparently 500 years younger than the tomb it sat in.

Egypt's Lost Tomb: Revealed

16 November 2018

Greek archaeologists locate lost ancient city of Tenea

A city thought to be founded by survivors of the Trojan War has been located in Greece. After years of excavations, archaeologists have collected tangible evidence of a city that previously only existed in ancient texts.

The ruins of a housing settlement and dozens of rare coins have confirmed the location of the ancient city of Tenea, Greece's culture ministry announced on Tuesday.

Excavations at a site in the southern Greek region of Peloponnese turned up "proof of the existence of the ancient city," the ministry said in a statement.

The city of Tenea is believed to have been founded by Trojans who were taken prisoner uring the Trojan War in the 12th or 13th century BCE.

Until now, the city had only been mentioned in ancient texts and it was unknown whether it existed.

Main excavations in the area started in 2013, the most recent excavations unearthed seven graves dating to the Roman era and Hellenistic period, as well as the remnants of a housing settlement.

"It is significant that the remnants of the city, the paved roads, the architectural structure, came to light," lead archaeologist Eleni Korka told Reuters news agency.

The dig revealed marble and stone floors of buildings as well as carefully constructed walls. Some 200 rare coins dating from the 4th century BCE were also unearthed as well, indicating that Tenea was very wealthy, Korka said.

The graves contained vases and jewelry - with the skeleton of a woman and child found in one of the graves.

In an unusual find, archaeologists discovered a jar containing the remains of two human fetuses in the foundations of one building. Ancient Greeks typically buried their dead in organized cemeteries outside the city walls.

"We've found evidence of life and death and all this is just a small part of the history of the place," said Korka. "The coming years will allow us to evaluate where we stand."

Greek archaeologists locate lost ancient city of Tenea

14 November 2018

Bonhams Antiquities

28 Nov 2018, starting at 10:30 GMT

London, New Bond Street

Bonhams Antiquities

9 November 2018

Gauls did embalm the severed heads of their enemies

The Gauls were fearsome warriors who cut off the heads of their enemies and displayed them for all to see, bringing them back from battle hanging around their horses’ necks. But now research has confirmed that the Gauls appear to have embalmed them too. Experts say they have found traces of conifer resins on the remains of skulls discovered at the iron age settlement of Le Cailar in the south of France – a discovery that backs up ancient reports that the Celtic Gauls preserved their grisly trophies. “In fact the ancient texts told about us the head being embalmed with cedar oil. Thanks to our chemical analysis we know that this information is right,” said Réjane Roure, co-author of the study from Paul Valéry University of Montpellier.

Previous finds at other sites have included a sculpture of a mounted warrior, not only with sword and spear but a head slung around the neck of the horse, while the gruesome practice is also noted in a number of ancient texts, and supported by discoveries of human skulls with marks of decapitation, and even nails inside them. Writing in the Journal of Archaeological Science, Roure and colleagues describe how they analysed human skulls found with weapons in an area of Le Cailar where they would have been widely visible – suggesting they would have been on display. The team took samples from 11 human skull fragments, noting many of the skulls showed cut marks of decapitation and signs that hint at the removal of the brain. They also tested five bones from animals found in the same area.

The analysis revealed traces of a host of substances on the human fragments, including fatty acids and cholesterol, much of which the team say are characteristic of degraded human, plant or animal fats. The animal bones also showed traces of cholesterol. However the team found that six of the eleven human skull fragments bore traces of substances called diterpenoids – telltale signs that the bones had been in contact with conifer resin. Such traces were not found on the animal bones.

The researchers say the findings add weight to ancient reports that, after severing the heads of their enemies, Celtic tribes embalmed them – pointing to ancient Greek writers Strabo and Diodorus of Sicily who both record that a Greek called Poseidonios claimed to have seen such sights in Gaul. While these texts note that cedar oil was used, the team say it might have been a resin with a similar smell, as it is not clear if cedar trees were growing in the area in the third century BC.

Roure said the purpose of the preservation might have been to make sure the face and features of the enemy remained on show. “The ancient texts said only the most powerful enemies and the most important enemies were embalmed – maybe that was to be able to say ‘see that face, it was some big warrior’,” she said. She added the texts also said that the Gauls never gave back such heads “even for an equal weight of gold”. “We think that means sometimes some people tried to buy the heads,” said Roure.

The authors say it is not clear exactly how the embalming process was carried out, but that the heads might have been dipped in the resin, or it could have been poured over them, and might have been applied more than once as time went on. It is also unclear whether the process was also carried out on revered locals, or was reserved solely for enemies.

23 October 2018

World's oldest intact shipwreck discovered in Black Sea

Archaeologists have found what they believe to be the world’s oldest intact shipwreck at the bottom of the Black Sea where it appears to have lain undisturbed for more than 2,400 years. The 23-metre (75ft) vessel, thought to be ancient Greek, was discovered with its mast, rudders and rowing benches all present and correct just over a mile below the surface. A lack of oxygen at that depth preserved it, the researchers said.

“A ship surviving intact from the classical world, lying in over 2km of water, is something I would never have believed possible,” said Professor Jon Adams, the principal investigator with the Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project (MAP), the team that made the find. “This will change our understanding of shipbuilding and seafaring in the ancient world.”

The ship is believed to have been a trading vessel of a type that researchers say has only previously been seen “on the side of ancient Greek pottery such as the ‘Siren Vase’ in the British Museum”. The ‘Siren Vase’ depicts a similar vessel bearing Odysseus past the sirens, with the Homeric hero lashed to the mast to resist their songs.

The team reportedly said they intended to leave the vessel where it was found, but added that a small piece had been carbon dated by the University of Southampton and claimed the results “confirmed [it] as the oldest intact shipwreck known to mankind”. The team said the data would be published at the Black Sea MAP conference at the Wellcome Collection in London later this week.

It was among more than 60 shipwrecks found by the international team of maritime archaeologists, scientists and marine surveyors, which has been on a three-year mission to explore the depths of the Black Sea to gain a greater understanding of the impact of prehistoric sea-level changes. They said the finds varied in age from a “17th-century Cossack raiding fleet, through Roman trading vessels, complete with amphorae, to a complete ship from the classical period”.

The documentary team made a two-hour film that is due to be shown at the British Museum on Tuesday.

World's oldest intact shipwreck discovered in Black Sea

22 October 2018

Archeological find changes date of Pompeii's destruction?

Archaeologists have uncovered evidence suggesting the destruction of Pompeii may not have occurred in August of AD 79, despite what historians have believed for centuries.

The explosive eruption of Mount Vesuvius that buried the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum was thought to have taken place on 24 August that year due to the writings of Pliny the Younger, who had witnessed it. Pliny, who lived on the other side of the Bay of Naples in Misenum, wrote to the historian and senator Tacitus that the eruption had left “a most beautiful city in ruins and destroyed so many populous cities”. His uncle, Pliny the Elder, was killed while attempting to rescue a friend in Pompeii, he said.

Now fresh excavations in Pompeii have revealed that a worker had inscribed the date of “the 16th day before the calends of November”, meaning 17 October, on a house at Pompeii. The charcoal inscription would apparently date the eruption to one week later on 24 October.

“Being charcoal, fragile and evanescent, which could not last a long time, it is more than likely that it was written in October 79 AD,” said Massimo Osanna, head of the Pompeii site.

Italian Culture Minister Alberto Bonisoli was on hand for the announcement, where earlier this month archaeologists revealed a richly painted garden scene in a home that was unearthed during excavations of a new sector of the vast site. Showing off the faint writing on an uncovered white wall, Mr Bonisoli hailed it as an “extraordinary discovery”. “Today, with a lot of humility, maybe we're rewriting the history books because we're dating the eruption to the second half of October,” he said.

Doubt had previously been cast on the August date due to archaeological evidence relating to autumnal fruit. The archaeological work had uncovered a calcified branch bearing berries that normally only come out in autumn. The discovery of some braziers over the years also suggested the disaster did not strike at the height of summer.

13 October 2018

Traces of opiates found in ancient Cypriot vessel

Researchers at the University of York and the British Museum have discovered traces of opiates preserved inside a vessel dating back to the Late Bronze Age.

Vessels known as 'base-ring juglets' have long been thought to be linked with opium use because when inverted they resemble the seed head of the opium poppy. These vessels were widely traded in the eastern Mediterranean C. 1650 - 1350BC.

Researchers used analytical techniques to study a juglet kept in the British Museum which is sealed, preserving the contents inside. This provided a rare opportunity for scientists to investigate the contents.

Initial analysis showed that the juglet residue was mostly composed of plant oil but also hinted at the presence of opium alkaloids, a group of organic compounds derived from the opium poppy, which are known to have significant psychological effects on the human body.

However, to conclusively detect the alkaloids and demonstrate the presence of opiates in the oil-based residue of the vessel, a new technique was required. Dr Rachel Smith developed the new analytical method using instruments in the Centre of Excellence in Mass Spectrometry at the University of York. Dr Smith said: "The particular opiate alkaloids we detected are ones we have shown to be the most resistant to degradation, which makes them better targets in ancient residues than more well-known opiates such as morphine.

"We found the alkaloids in degraded plant oil, so the question as to how opium would have been used in this juglet still remains. Could it have been one ingredient amongst others in an oil-based mixture, or could the juglet have been re-used for oil after the opium or something else entirely?"

In the past, it has been argued that these juglets could have been used to hold poppy seed oil, containing traces of opium, used for anointing or in a perfume. In this theory, the opium effects may have held symbolic significance.

Professor Jane Thomas-Oates, Chair of Analytical Science in the Department of Chemistry, and supervisor of the study at the University of York, said: "The juglet is significant in revealing important details about trade and the culture of the period, so it was important to try and progress the debate about what it might have been used for.

"We were able to establish a rigorous method for detecting opiates in this kind of residue, but the next analytical challenge is to see if we can succeed with less well-preserved residues."

This is the first time that reliable chemical evidence has been produced to link the opium poppy with a base-ring juglet, despite many previous attempts by researchers over the years.

Dr Rebecca Stacey, Senior Scientist in the Department of Scientific Research at the British Museum, said: "It is important to remember that this is just one vessel, so the result raises lots of questions about the contents of the juglet and its purpose. The presence of the alkaloids here is unequivocal and lends a new perspective to the debate about their significance."

The research is published in the Royal Society of Chemistry's journal Analyst and funded by the National Environmental Research Council (NERC).

28 September 2018

Archaeologists and curators leaving UK over Brexit fears

A no-deal Brexit would cause severe disruption to the UK's culture sector, industry leaders have said.

The expected loss of EU funding and uncertainty over the status of EU nationals after March 2019 has meant that UK museums are already losing scientists, researchers and curators, and there is a shortage of archaeologists.

Bernard Donoghue, director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions says, "We've seen UK cultural organisations increasingly excluded from EU funding initiatives in anticipation of Brexit. We're already seeing a brain drain of skilled workers in the culture, science and design sectors who are leaving because either they know that EU funding for their job is going to dry up or they're insecure about the status of their jobs post-March 2019."

A spokeswoman for Arts Council England said: "Over two-thirds of our funded organisations work internationally and in the event of a no-deal Brexit, many would feel the impact immediately. The range of issues include staff and artists requiring visas, equipment needing carnets and exhibitions needing licences to tour, in addition to increased costs relating to working or touring overseas."

Alistair Brown, the policy officer at the Museums Association , said EU funding and talent was already going elsewhere because of the uncertainty about Brexit and the prospect of no deal. "No-deal puts the legal systems that museums use to lend and borrow cultural objects across the EU at risk. That could deprive museums of major objects for exhibitions in the UK."

Kate Geary, from the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists , said EU nationals made up to 60% of workers on some projects. She said the obligation to carry out such work may be scrapped due to staff shortages, which would be "detrimental to the country's heritage."

Archaeologists and curators leaving UK over Brexit fears

14 September 2018

Invisible Athens

Michael Scott's excellent new series on ancient cities continues tonight on the BBC with a look at unseen Athens...

In Athens we see the fifth century BC as the origin of democracy and the Athenian empire. Central modern Athens, covering the remains of the ancient city, is a battleground of ancient versus modern development.

Previously, in the majority of such encounters, modern was the winner. The loss of the ancient was mitigated by an archaeological investigation of the remains built into the planning and construction process, perhaps with a design change here and there to avoid permanent damage to a particularly important ruin and perhaps the addition of a glass floor or ceiling to allow it to be viewed.

Occasionally, a more fruitful marriage of ancient and modern was the design goal from the outset. The construction of the second and third of Athens' Metro lines from 1991 onwards was an exception and provided a more even-handed approach. Thus the Metro stations of Athens are now a fascinating mix of ancient and modern.

Now, another moment of victory is about to be handed to the ancient world, in the vicinity of Athens' ancient agora - the city's ancient cultural, political, social and economic hub where excavations began in 1931. The agora is now one of the most popular tourist sites in central Athens, complete with a rebuilt version of a grand ancient stoa (colonnaded building) along its east side that serves as the site's museum and store rooms.

While a large part of the agora has been exposed, an important part of its north side lies still hidden by not only modern buildings and streets, but also by the Athens-Piraeus Metro line, built in stages between 1869 and 1957. Up until recently, the solution had been to expose small areas of this northern section where possible between the modern structures; small area of ruins can be seen butting up alongside the train tracks.

Now, American archaeologists, with the Greek archaeological service and ministry of culture, have moved on the offensive. Nine modern buildings in a popular tourist area bristling with shops, cafes and restaurants have been bought up through compulsory purchase orders, their owners compensated, the buildings demolished and excavations conducted to reveal the ancient agora. In contrast to the 19th-century Acropolis cleanup, the project has also allowed for study of all the periods of history between the modern and the fifth century BC.

Part two of Michael Scott's Ancient Invisible Cities is on BBC Two tonight at 9pm GMT.

City with a past: why classical and modern Athens are at war

1st September 2018

London Coin Fair

Venue: Holiday Inn Bloomsbury - London, Coram Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1N 1HT

Staged over 2 floors and with 75+ specialist British and International dealers in ancient and moderncoins, paper money, medals, tokens, books and antiquities for sale, this is the largest International coin fair in the UK.

London Coin Fairs

22 August 2018 - 28 October 2018

Museum of London: Roman Dead

Last year, a Roman sarcophagus was found near to Harper Road in Southwark. What does this unique find tells us about the ancient city that 8 million people now call home?

The sarcophagus is displayed alongside the skeletons and cremated remains of 28 Roman Londoners found during archaeological excavations of ancient cemeteries.

The exhibition also features over 200 objects from burials in Roman London, exploring how people dealt with death in Londinium. Many items were brought here from across the Empire, showing the extent of London's international connections, even at this early time in its history.

Roman Dead uses these grave goods and the results of scientific analysis of ancient Londoners' skeletons to explore who Roman Londoners were, and show the surprising diversity of the ancient city.

Throughout the exhibition's run, the museum will host a range of activities and events for families and adults who want to learn more about the Roman dead. For a full list of these events visit the Roman Dead events page.

Museum of London - Roman Dead events

23 February 2018

Stonehenge Up Close

Gain a rare and fascinating insight into the famous World Heritage Site with an exclusive tour around the site led by one of English Heritage’s experts. Start the tour with exclusive early morning access to the stone circle at Stonehenge. Visit key archaeology sites including Durrington Walls, Woodhenge and The Cursus and learn more about the archaeological landscape and investigative work that has gone on in recent years. Includes tea, coffee and light breakfast.

Thu 1 Mar 2018

Price Member (Adult) £45

English Heritage

29 January 2018

World's Oldest Crayon Found in Yorkshire

Archaeologists say they may have discovered the earliest example of a crayon. The object, along with a pebble, are made of a red mineral pigment called ochre. They were discovered near an ancient lake covered in peat near Scarborough, North Yorkshire.

The crayon measures 22 millimetres (0.87 inches) long and 7 millimetres (0.28 inches) wide. It may have been used by our ancestors 10,000 years ago for applying colour to their animal skins or for artwork.

The archaeologist’s also discovered an ochre pebble at another site on the opposite side of the lake. The pebble had a heavily striated surface which was likely scraped to produce a red pigment powder.

The Daily Mail

22 January 2018

London Coin Fair

Staged over 2 floors and with 75+ specialist British and International dealers in ancient and moderncoins, paper money, medals, tokens, books and antiquities for sale, this is the largest International coin fair in the UK.

London Coin Fairs

22 January 2018

Museum of London: Roman London

Imagine yourself in Roman Londinium, at its height in AD 120, on this tour around the city, starting at the Museum on London Wall and ending at Leadenhall Market. Experience a real sense of scale and the topography of 400 years of Roman history, from Emperor Claudius’s invasion to abandonment in the 5th century, while you discover Roman landmarks, now quite hidden beneath our 21st century skyscrapers.

10 February 2018 - 7 April 2018

Museum of London

12 January 2018

Stone Age 'paradise' discovered next to major Israeli road

Archaeologists have found hundreds of hand-axes used by early humans over half a million years ago at Jaljulia, north-east of Tel Aviv.

The discovery at about a five-metre depth, is next to one of the country's busiest roads. The site is extraordinarily well preserved. It was used by Stone Age hunter-gatherers over half a million years ago, who left behind hundreds of knapped flint hand-axes. These finds suggest that an extinct species of early human - home erectus - may have repeatedly returned to the site, perhaps attracted by a water source, vegetation and an abundance of animals.

The most striking finds are evidence of a well-developed lithic industry (elaborately worked stone tools), this included hundreds of flint hand-axes typical of the ancient Acheulian culture that existed in the Lower Paleolithic era from about 1.5 million to 200,000 years ago. This culture is associated with homo erectus and early homo sapiens and is characterised by distinctive oval and pear-shaped flint hand tools.

The dating of Acheulian hand-axes - which scientists now believe were used for a variety of purposes from butchering to digging - has been used to trace the early human migration out of Africa into Asia and Europe.

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