24 July 2020
Butter dating back 2500 years found at the bottom of Scottish loch
Traces of dairy matter were found preserved inside a wooden butter dish, made by an Iron Age community. The wooden dish was discovered by archaeologists at the bottom of Loch Tay, where at least 17 crannogs, or Iron Age wooden houses, once stood. Built from alder with a lifespan of around 20 years, the structures simply collapsed into the loch once they had served their purpose, taking the objects inside with them.
Rich Hiden, archaeologist at the Scottish Crannog Centre, said conditions at the bottom of the loch had offered the perfect environment to preserve the butter and the dish. When they started excavating, they pulled out this square wooden dish, which had chisel marks on the sides as well as grey matter.
Analysis of the matter found it was dairy material, with experts believing it likely originated from a cow. Holes in the bottom of the wooden dish suggest it was used for the buttering process. The butter then may have been turned into cheese by adding rennet, which naturally forms in a number of plants, including nettles.Butter dating back 2500 years found at the bottom of Scottish loch
17 July 2020
New Discoveries Shed Light on Romans in Northern England
Ancient shoes, a rare silver ring, a plumb bob used to build straight roads and a never found before elaborately carved amber figurine are among thousands of objects found in North Yorkshire which are teaching us more about Roman Britain.
Excavations carried out as part of works to upgrade the A1 have revealed a major settlement at Scotch Corner, North Yorkshire and suggests the Romans came to northern England earlier than previously thought.New Discoveries Shed Light on Romans in Northern England
14 July 2020
Treasures found by the British public - in pictures
The British public have discovered hundreds of thousands of archaeological objects, and the British Museum has revealed that the number recorded by its Portable Antiquities Scheme has hit a milestone 1.5m. These finds have radically transformed what we know about life through time on the British Isles.Treasures found by the British public - in pictures
20 June 2020
Stonehenge: Neolithic monument found near sacred site
Archaeologists have discovered a ring of prehistoric shafts, dug thousands of years ago near Stonehenge. Fieldwork has revealed evidence of a 1.2 mile (2km) wide circle of large shafts measuring more than 10m in diameter and 5m in depth. They surround the ancient settlement of Durrington Walls, two miles (3km) from Stonehenge. Tests suggest the ground works are Neolithic and were excavated more than 4,500 years ago. Experts believe the 20 or more shafts may have served as a boundary to a sacred area connected to the henge.
The announcement of the discovery comes after the Summer Solstice, which took place online this year as the annual gathering at Stonehenge was cancelled due to coronavirus.Stonehenge: Neolithic monument found near sacred site
14 June 2020
Missing Roman Wales revealed by drought
Roman forts, roads, military camps and villas have been identified by a new analysis of aerial photographs taken in the 2018 heatwave across Wales. Scorched crop In Monmouthshire, the researchers have identified a new "marching camp" at a site near Caerwent. They were the temporary overnight stops that the Romans built on manoeuvres in hostile territory. The site would have provided defensive positions, camping and kitchens for bread ovens. This is when Wales was a very dangerous place to be for the troops as they were still under attack. The entire area heading into south-east Wales through Usk to Caerleon would have been peppered with similar sites, believe the experts, as the Roman armies fought a 20-year battle to crush resistance amongst Celtic tribes, notably the Silures in southern Wales. With conquest came reinforcements, and that meant forts. The aerial photographs confirmed the locations of at least three new fort sites, including the first found in the Vale of Gwent at Carrow Hill, west of the Roman town of Caerwent and the Roman legionary fortress at Caerleon. The crop images show it had inner and outer defensive structure and a "killing zone" in between, perfectly ranged for a javelin throw. The photographs found a long suspected fort site at Aberllynfi near Hay-on-Wye is indeed Roman, even though part of it has long since been built over by housing. While further investigations at Pen y Gaer in Powys, near Tretower and Crickhowell, have revealed new detailed structures previously undiscovered - despite digs and surveys on the ground. The researchers have also been able to identify details of new villas - including at St Arvans, north of Chepstow in Monmouthshire. The location had previously been considered a temple site, after part of a bronze statue of Mars was unearthed. But the heatwave images make it clear this was a Roman villa of some note, with its room structure clearly visible. Perhaps the most startling discoveries have been pieces of unknown Roman road. One shows how the Roman armies pushed their way south from Carmarthen to Kidwelly, reinforcing speculation the town was home to a Roman fort - even if it may now be covered by Kidwelly Castle.
In Monmouthshire, the researchers have identified a new "marching camp" at a site near Caerwent. They were the temporary overnight stops that the Romans built on manoeuvres in hostile territory. The site would have provided defensive positions, camping and kitchens for bread ovens. This is when Wales was a very dangerous place to be for the troops as they were still under attack. The entire area heading into south-east Wales through Usk to Caerleon would have been peppered with similar sites, believe the experts, as the Roman armies fought a 20-year battle to crush resistance amongst Celtic tribes, notably the Silures in southern Wales.
With conquest came reinforcements, and that meant forts. The aerial photographs confirmed the locations of at least three new fort sites, including the first found in the Vale of Gwent at Carrow Hill, west of the Roman town of Caerwent and the Roman legionary fortress at Caerleon. The crop images show it had inner and outer defensive structure and a "killing zone" in between, perfectly ranged for a javelin throw. The photographs found a long suspected fort site at Aberllynfi near Hay-on-Wye is indeed Roman, even though part of it has long since been built over by housing. While further investigations at Pen y Gaer in Powys, near Tretower and Crickhowell, have revealed new detailed structures previously undiscovered - despite digs and surveys on the ground.
The researchers have also been able to identify details of new villas - including at St Arvans, north of Chepstow in Monmouthshire. The location had previously been considered a temple site, after part of a bronze statue of Mars was unearthed. But the heatwave images make it clear this was a Roman villa of some note, with its room structure clearly visible.
Perhaps the most startling discoveries have been pieces of unknown Roman road. One shows how the Roman armies pushed their way south from Carmarthen to Kidwelly, reinforcing speculation the town was home to a Roman fort - even if it may now be covered by Kidwelly Castle.Missing Roman forts and roads revealed by drought
27 February 2020
Roman snake ring found in Buckinghamshire declared treasure
A Roman ring might have been made by the same jeweller behind a famous hoard.
The silver ring, featuring two snake heads, was found in Buckinghamshire by a detectorist from Essex. Items with the same distinctive cobra heads were part of the Snettisham Jeweller's Hoard found in Norfolk in 1985.
The ring, unearthed at Upper Winchendon near Aylesbury, has been bent, so experts can't be sure about its original design
In her book, The Jewellery of Roman Britain, Catherine Johns said it was thought snake-motif jewellery was worn as an amulet because in the classical world snakes were positive symbols - associated with healing, rebirth and ancestors.
The find was described as quite unusual because of the two snake heads, and because we don't have many examples of this kind of ring in the British Museum's Portable Antiquities Scheme database.
The ring, found in March 2018, was declared treasure at Buckinghamshire Coroner's Court.
15 February 2020
Developers will protect Roman villa unearthed in Cam
A Roman villa unearthed during building work will be preserved after developers agreed to "re-plan" the estate.
More than 6,000 people signed a petition to save the remains discovered by archaeologists working on behalf of Bovis Homes in Cam, Gloucestershire. The firm said experts had told them the remains did not qualify for preservation but it had since "found a compromise".
Bovis Homes said it would change its plans "so that there will be no homes or hard-standing on the ground above the site of the villa's remains". Nigel Lush, from the company, said: "Everyone has come at this challenge with a commitment to work together to try and find a practical solution. "In terms of the villa's preservation and the public's health and safety, leaving the remains exposed to the elements was not a feasible option but we believe we have found a compromise that allows the community to enjoy the villa and find out more about Cam's history." He said the plans included turning the land above the structure into a public space, with information boards and a virtual tour outlining what was discovered beneath the ground.
BBC TV presenter and archaeology expert Professor Mark Horton was among those who called for the villa to be saved, describing it as "a very important discovery".
Campaigner Christie McLean, who started the petition to save the villa, said: "I think it's fantastic. They've [Bovis Homes] joined the community spirit and they've made changes in accordance with what the locals would like."Developers will protect Roman villa unearthed in Cam
29 January 2020
Found in a garage, the tiny amulet worth £3m
A pensioner has uncovered an amulet of a dog in his garage worth a staggering £3 million.
When Alfred Correya, 66, found the tiny jade jewel in a chest of drawers, he had no idea of its value.
But he has since learned it is between 4,000 and 5, 000 years old, with experts saying they can trace it back to Stone Age China.
Mr Correya’s father was an Indian gem dealer and emigrated to Britain in the 1960s. When he died aged 96 in 2002, the amulet was left in his son’s garage and forgotten. Mr Correya said: “My dad acquired all sorts of pieces but this dog was seen as a trinket. He seems to have been somewhat mistaken.”
Asian art expert Alexander Clement confirmed the amulet’s age and valued it at between £2 million and 3 million.Found in a garage, the tiny amulet worth £3m
29 January 2020
Roman and Anglo-Saxon artefacts found in Baginton
Pots, jugs and jewellery were found in Baginton, next to Lunt Roman Fort and Coventry Airport in Warwickshire. The pieces were found during a dig ahead of a housing development project in summer 2017 but many of the items have only just been officially dated and verified by experts.
Senior archaeologist Nigel Page, from Warwickshire County Council which led the dig, said it was a "remarkable" find. "It's a significant discovery in the West Midlands," he said. "There was a real buzz of excitement when the site was found, it's breathtaking."
Archaeologists believe two of the graves contained a "high status" ranking officer and a Roman girl, aged between six and 12. A decorative brooch was found within a Roman cremation burial site of a young girl. It was one of four brooches from a small pile of jewellery placed in the grave and covered by a polished mirror. Other jewellery included a ring, with an image of a cicada - an insect associated with immortality - and a hair pin. Experts said the items and imagery on some of the jewellery suggested a link to southern Europe.
A dozen Anglo-Saxon graves were also excavated, some of which contained goods including a Frankish vessel from the northern France and Belgium area.
"The presence of the Frankish vessel suggests that, just as during the Roman period, goods and people were moving into and through the area from a wide area, including from Europe," Mr Page said. One burial contained the centre of a shield, fragments of a knife blade in its leather sheath and a crushed copper alloy hanging bowl. Experts said the richness of the Anglo-Saxon grave suggested a person of reasonably high status, such as a high ranking officer.
The settlement at Baginton continued to flourish after the Romans left in the early 5th Century AD.Roman and Anglo-Saxon artefacts found in Baginton
8 January 2020
Archaeologists find graves of high status Romans in Somerset
The resting places of more than 50 adults and children have been found in an unusual Roman cemetery unearthed during building work for a new school in Somerset. Archaeologists say the discovery at Somerton, near Glastonbury, sheds significant light on life and death in the south-west of Britain after the Roman invasion.
Some of the people buried in the Romano-British cemetery were clearly of high status, with the position of one woman’s skull indicating her head was initially resting on a pillow. Tiny nails were also found at the foot of the graves, suggesting most of the people were buried wearing hobnail boots. Human remains and a cooking pot were also discovered during building work for a new school.
But it is the structure of the graves that is fascinating. The majority were lined with local stone and capped and sealed with the same sort of slabs used to create roofs in the area 2,000 years ago. In one particularly unusual grave, slabs were used to create a tent-like structure above the person who was buried. A similar setup was recently discovered at the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station construction site on the Somerset coast 25 miles (40km) north-west of Somerton and it has echoes of grave profiles in Spain and Italy.
Other finds include grave goods such as pottery and jewellery, while one pot that was dug up contained a chicken wing. A coin from the time of Emperor Vespasian, who ruled from AD69 to AD79, and a piece of carved bone, most likely from a knife handle, were also uncovered.Archaeologists find graves of high status Romans in Somerset
18 December 2019
Bronze Age Royal Tombs Unearthed In Greece
Archaeologists from the University of Cincinnati have discovered two royal tombs in Greece containing engraved jewellery and artefacts dating back more than 3,000 years. The finds include a gold ring depicting bulls flanked by sheaves of barley and a gold pendant featuring the likeness of the Egyptian goddess Hathor.
The US researchers say their discovery will provide new clues about early Mycenaean trade and culture. The tombs are near the Bronze Age palace of Pylos, in Greece's southern Peloponnese region.
Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker, archaeologists in UC's classics department, found the two beehive-shaped tombs while investigating the area around the grave of an individual they have called the "Griffin Warrior," a Greek man whose final resting place they discovered nearby in 2015.
Like the Griffin Warrior's tomb, the princely tombs overlooking the Mediterranean Sea also contained a wealth of cultural artefacts and delicate jewelry that could help historians fill in gaps in our knowledge of early Greek civilization.
Jack Davis said items such as the gold ring depicting two bulls with sheaves of barley gave an insight into life around the Mediterranean more than 3,000 years ago. "It's an interesting scene of animal husbandry - cattle mixed with grain production. It's the foundation of agriculture," he said.
The tombs were littered with tiny pieces of gold leaf that had fallen from the walls.Archaeologists find Bronze Age tombs lined with gold
10 December 2019
Nine 'amazing' Bronze Age figurines found at Orkney dig
Whilst studying archaeology at university, I was fascinated by the mysterious stone balls found at sites all over Orkney. These new objects, whilst not as aesthetically pleasing, add further to the mystery of the people who lived on Orkney lithic and early Bronze Age.
Archaeologists working at the site of a proposed electricity sub-station in Orkney have found nine "amazing" stone carvings. The 50cm (20in) tall sculptures have all been worked to give them shoulders, a neck and what looks like a head. The first has been nicknamed the "Finstown Fella", after the location of the dig. After it was recognised, eight more were found on the site. Experts believe they date from roughly 2000BC.
Sean Bell, site director for ORCA Archaeology, told BBC Radio Orkney that they had all been worked using a technique known as pecking - chipping away flakes of stone with a pointed metal or stone tool. He said the round shape on the largest of the carved stones "definitely looks like a head, and in some lights you think you can see features on it. But whether that's intentional or not, we can't say." Mr Bell said finding nine of the anthropomorphic - or human like - stones in one place is unprecedented. "Examples have come up, usually as individuals as a result of people ploughing," he added.t some of the examples we've got, instead of being rotund and three dimensional, are very flat. And they're similar to some that have come out from the Links of Noltland (on the island of Westray). "So, even though we're calling them all necked stones, they might not all have the same function, but so little is known about them. That's why this is so important."
The objects could be deliberate representations of the human form. Or they might have been made for a specific practical purpose, or, perhaps both. "One theory, particularly with the flat ones, is they may be set in the ground, and then the neck is used for a tether. A sort of Neolithic tent peg," Mr Bell said. "Of course when you talk about anthropomorphic figures, you automatically start thinking of ritual and religion. "But even a flat one being used to tether something could still be part of that aspect of society."
Sean Bell said the discovery of so many of the stones in one place, and in a secure archaeological context, shines a light on a relatively unknown part of Orcadian pre-history and may help experts to understand more about the objects.
The dig was carried out at Finstown ahead of development at the site by SSEN Transmission.Nine 'amazing' Bronze Age figurines found at Orkney dig
4 December 2019
UK's 'largest' gold nugget discovered in Scottish river
A lump of pure gold, which weighs 121.3g (4.2 oz), was unearthed in a mystery location in May this year. The two pieces form a doughnut shape and could be worth £80,000. The previous largest find, in 2016, was the 85.7g (3oz) Douglas Nugget. However, gold panning experts are remaining sceptical until its provenance can be confirmed. The treasure was discovered in two pieces but fits together perfectly, earning it the name The Reunion Nugget. The gold-panning community is renowned for its secrecy, and the name of the river where it was found has not been revealed. The lucky finder is also remaining anonymous.
The finder brought the discovery to the attention of author Lee Palmer who was researching his book Gold Occurrences In The UK. Mr Palmer, 50, said: "This is now the largest nugget in existence in the UK. When you look at it, it's doughnut-shaped. "There are no impurities in it, it is just pure gold nugget of about 22 carats. It really is a remarkable find." The nugget was found using the method of "sniping", which sees gold hunters lying face down in a river while wearing a snorkel and dry suit. The enthusiast unearthed the larger piece first, which weighs 89.6g (3.1oz), before finding the other half, weighing 31.7g (1,1oz) 10 minutes later. Mr Palmer said: "The man just threw the bigger piece in his bucket with the rest of his stuff - he knew it was big but didn't realise how big. "He found the second nugget 30cm (12in) away and chucked that in his bucket too. "It wasn't until a couple of days later that he had a look at them and realised how big they were and that they fitted together." He added: "The hole in the middle could have been caused by a strike off a rock or glacier. "One mineralogist thought it looked like an entry and exit hole that could've been made with a neolithic antler pick, which were used by farmers in the Iron Age."
Both the finder of the nugget and the owner of the land where it was discovered are keeping their identities secret due to its magnitude. Mr Palmer hopes it will be purchased by either the National Museum Of Scotland or the Natural History Museum, but legally it may have to be handed over to The Crown Estate. He believes the fact it is in two pieces should not affect its value. Mr Palmer said: "From the top you could say it looks like two bits, but when you see it from underneath, it's a perfect fit. "It's like an exact jigsaw, there's no disputing it. "Even if you took the largest individual piece, it is still the biggest one in the UK. "Add together the second piece and the story behind it and you've got something amazing." The Douglas Nugget holds the current record for the largest gold nugget found in the UK for 500 years.UK's 'largest' gold nugget discovered in Scottish river
29 November 2019
Feeders or Fillers?
A recent study looked at the evidence for the use of ancient vessels to feed animal milk to prehistoric babies. There are a variety of ancient glass and ceramic vessels with small, thin spouts that have tested scholars as to their function. It seems likely that the majority of the prehistoric clay and later Roman glass vessels were used to feed infants or the infirm, while the ceramic Greek and Roman forms were used to replenish oil lamps or for other domestic uses.
A team of scientists, led by the University of Bristol, found the first evidence that prehistoric babies were fed animal milk using the equivalent of modern-day baby bottles.
Possible infant feeding vessels, made from clay, first appear in Europe in the Neolithic (at around 5,000 BC), becoming more commonplace throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages. The vessels are usually small enough to fit within a baby’s hands and have a spout through which liquid could be suckled. Sometimes they have feet and are shaped like imaginary animals. Despite this, in the lack of any direct evidence for their function, it has been suggested they may also be feeding vessels for the sick or infirm.
The researchers wanted to investigate whether these were in fact infant feeding vessels (baby bottles) so selected three examples found in very rare child graves in Bavaria. These were small (about 5 – 10 cm across) with an extremely narrow spout. The team used a combined chemical and isotopic approach to identify and quantify the food residues found within the vessels. Their findings, published in the journal Nature, showed that the bottles contained ruminant milk from domesticated cattle, sheep or goat. The presence of these three obviously specialised vessels in child graves combined with the chemical evidence confirms that these vessels were used to feed animal milk to babies either in the place of human milk and/or during weaning onto supplementary foods.
This is the first study that has applied this direct method of identification of weaning foods to infants in the past and opens the way for investigations of feeding vessels from other ancient cultures worldwide. Lead author, Dr Julie Dunne from the University of Bristol’s School of Chemistry, said: “These very small, evocative, vessels give us valuable information on how and what babies were fed thousands of years ago, providing a real connection to mothers and infants in the past.” She continued: “Similar vessels do appear in other cultures (such as Rome and ancient Greece) across the world. Ideally, we’d like to carry out a larger geographic study and investigate whether they served the same purpose.”
Project partner, Dr Katharina Rebay-Salisbury from the Institute for Oriental and European Archaeology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, who directs an ERC-funded project on motherhood in prehistory, added: “Bringing up babies in prehistory was not an easy task. We are interested in researching cultural practices of mothering, which had profound implications for the survival of babies. It is fascinating to be able to see, for the first time, which foods these vessels contained.”
Professor Richard Evershed FRS who heads up Bristol’s Organic Geochemistry Unit and is a co-author of the study, added: “This is a striking example of how robust biomolecular information, properly integrated with the archaeology of these objects, has provided a fascinating insight into an aspect of prehistoric human life so familiar to us today.”
26 November 2019
The Boxford Mosaic - One for your stocking?
If you’ve ever dreamt of discovering a roman mosaic (and who hasn’t) then this new book is the next best thing.
The Boxford Mosaic - tells the story behind finding one of the most spectacular Roman mosaics in Britain.
Dating from around 350AD, this mosaic is one of just three of its kind in the world - a masterpiece of Roman artistry and a beautifully preserved link to the past. It lay hidden beneath a Berkshire field in the sleepy village of Boxford for some 1,600 years until it was fully uncovered in the summer of 2019.
The book tells the story of how the mosaic came to be discovered, the painstaking process of uncovering it, and the myths depicted within it.
Some of the most famous heroes from Greek mythology are brought to life in the stunning artwork. Hercules slays the half-man, half-horse Centaur. Pelops wins the hand of a king’s daughter by sabotaging his racing chariot. The handsome Bellerophon kills the fire-breathing Chimaera monster with the help of his flying horse Pegasus and a lance tipped with lead. This legend spread down the centuries into the folklore of many countries; in Britain it became St George and the Dragon.
The full description of this artistic masterpiece and its excavation, by local enthusiasts working under professional supervision, is told by the people who played key roles in the excavation.
80 pages in full colour. Authors: Anthony Beeson, Matt Nichol & Joy Appleton. ISBN 9781846743924The Boxford Mosaic
25 November 2019
Christie's urged to pull sale of Roman statue 'linked to illicit dealers'
A leading archaeologist is calling for Christie’s to cancel the auction of a first-century Roman statue because of its alleged links to “notorious dealers connected with numerous cases of illicit antiquities”. Prof Christos Tsirogiannis’ claims relate to a marble depiction of Eros unstringing his bow, which is due to be sold on 4 December. Estimated to fetch between £500,000 and £800,000, the 94cm statue is given pride of place on the catalogue’s cover. However, Tsirogiannis says he has four photographs of “exactly the same object” in the possession of the disgraced dealer Robin Symes and his late partner Christo Michaelides, whose archives were seized by police and held by authorities in Greece and Italy. Tsirogiannis described the phrase “said to be” as unacceptable and showed that the provenance was “uncertain”. “Christie’s should withdraw the piece and contact the authorities [who will] tell them what to do.” He said this case was the latest example of a major auctioneer failing to make adequate checks with the authorities.
Tsirogiannis, a former senior field archaeologist at Cambridge University’s archaeological unit, was recently appointed associate professor at the Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Aarhus, in Denmark. Greek and Italian authorities gave him official access to confiscated archival material as his academic research has focused on antiquities and trafficking networks. Over 13 years, he has identified about 1,100 looted artefacts within auction houses, commercial galleries and private collections. Notifying Interpol and other police authorities, he has played a major role in securing the repatriation of many antiquities to their country of origin. His research is based on tens of thousands of images and other archival material seized on police raids from individuals involved in the illicit trade. That material includes the business dealings of Giacomo Medici, convicted in Italy in 2004 of dealing in stolen artefacts, and Gianfranco Becchina, convicted in Italy in 2011 of illegally dealing in antiquities.
17 November 2019
Digging for Britain: New Series
Just when I'm thinking TV has given up on archaeology (come back Time Team), easy on the eye Professor Alice Roberts returns with the eighth series of BBC Four's Digging for Britain this Wednesday 20th November at 9pm. In the first episode, she explores this year's finds in the west of Britain...
There she visits a secret location in the Cotswolds, with all the hallmarks of a high-status Anglo Saxon cemetery, which gives up a very precious and fragile artefact. And at the site of Shaftesbury Abbey, Dr Naoise MacSweeney joins archaeologist Julian Richards in his hunt for the missing cloister.
Then it's on to the bone cave of Wales once inhabited by Neanderthals and early humans, while on Salisbury Plain archaeologists have a puzzle to solve... Have they found more remains of the mysterious Beaker People, even though there's no beaker? The programme also follows an archaeological rescue as a team from Cardiff University is called in to investigate medieval bones protruding from cliff face on the Welsh coast.
So, a night in with Alice... Neanderthals, bones and beakerless Beaker folk... What could be better? Just don't tell the wife...
15 November 2019
Experts solve the mystery of ancient Egypt's sacred bird mummies
An ancient Egyptian mystery has been solved. Researchers say they have cracked the conundrum of where millions of mummified birds came from. Pharaohs and members of the nobility were often mummified, but the practice was not just reserved for humans – cats, crocodiles, mice and mongooses are among the many mummified animals that have been found. While some have been discovered alongside human burials, others – most notably the sacred ibis bird – were mummified as part of rituals designed to placate the gods.
More than 4 million sacred ibis mummies have been found in the catacombs of Tuna el-Gebel and 1.75 million have been discovered in the ancient burial ground of Saqqara. The vast majority were votive offerings to the god Thoth, a practice that had its heyday between 450BC and 250BC. “The ibis was considered [to represent] the god Thoth, the god of wisdom, the god of magic, the god of judgment, writing all sorts of things,” said Sally Wasef, a research fellow at Griffith University in Australia and first author of the research. “If you had a boss that annoys you and you don’t feel like you are getting a good judgment from him or you want fairness and justice, you go and ask Thoth to interfere and in return you promise to offer him an ibis, a mummified ibis, in his annual feast.”
The sheer quantity of mummified ibises left experts scratching their heads – where did all these birds come from? One suggestion is that they were reared on an industrial scale in hatcheries. That idea appears to have some support in ancient texts, such as the writings of Hor of Sebennytos, a priest and scribe in the second century BC, who wrote about feeding tens of thousands of sacred ibis with bread and clover.
To explore the possibility, Wasef and colleagues analysed DNA from 14 mummified sacred ibises found in ancient Egypt and 26 modern samples from across Africa. As DNA breaks down over time, the team focused on DNA found within the “powerhouses” of cells, known as mitochondria, rather than the DNA in the nucleus of cells that forms the chromosomes, not least because the former is far more abundant than the latter, meaning a better chance of recovering it.
The results, published in the journal Plos One, reveal the level of diversity in the mitochondrial DNA among the ancient birds is similar to that among modern wild birds, and have similar levels of potentially harmful mutations. However, the team says if the ancient Egyptians farmed sacred ibises, the genetic diversity in ancient birds would probably be lower due to high levels of inbreeding. Wasef said this suggested that, rather than being bred in a mass-farming situation, sacred ibises were tempted to local areas and kept in a natural habitat – or perhaps captured and kept in farms for a short time, ready for sacrifice. “The most likely thing is that next to each temple there was like a lake or a wetland – it is a natural habitat for the ibis to live in and if you are giving them food they will keep coming,” she said. Indeed, she notes, there was a swamp near Tuna el-Gebel and the Lake of the Pharaoh near Saqqara.
Pontus Skoglund, an expert in ancient DNA at Francis Crick Institute said the work was impressive. “It is really cool to get this 2,500-year-old ancient DNA,” he said. But while he said the data backed up the possibility the sacred ibis mummies were indeed wild birds, he noted that if a hatchery was large enough the birds within might have retained a high level of genetic diversity. “If there was a hatchery and even occasionally wild birds would breed with the birds in the hatchery, that is a second possibility,” he said. However, Wasef said no hatchery structures had been found. What’s more, in a votive offering, a bird was killed, dipped in hot resin and wrapped to form the mummy – yet some of the mummies found in the catacombs are fake, being little more than a feather, nest material or piece of eggshell. Wasef says if birds were readily available from hatcheries, there would be no need for fake mummies.
Prof Paul Nicholson, an expert on Egyptian animal cults from Cardiff University, said a small number of ibises worshipped in temples as divine incarnations of Thoth might have been bred by humans, but that the team’s conclusions about the birds for votive offerings hold water. “I think the idea that you might encourage flocks to stay longer or come to a particular area at particular times of the year is a good one,” he said.
07 November 2019
Roman ring found in Broxted after 1,600 years
This "prized" Roman gold ring was found in a farmer's field more than 1,600 years after it was lost.
The piece of jewellery, inset with an amethyst, was found by a detectorist in Broxted, near Saffron Walden in Essex, in November 2017.
Sophie Flynn, finds liaison officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) at Colchester Museum, said it would have been a "prized possession". She said the ring dated from between AD300 and AD399 - towards the end of the Roman occupation of Britain.
The small band size suggests this was a ladies' ring or that of a young man or woman. Jewellery like this was commonly worn by Romano-British people, who both produced items locally and imported them from elsewhere in the Roman Empire.
The ring was declared treasure at an inquest at Essex Coroner's Court.
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.”
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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