18 September 2020
An Anglo-Saxon cemetery that may date to the sixth century A.D has been found at a site slated for residential development in the East of England, within the border of the Kingdom of the East Angles.
Brooches, pottery, small iron knives, wrist clasps, amber and glass beads, and silver pennies were uncovered among the more than 200 burials.
The fragile artifacts were removed in blocks of soil for micro-excavation at Norfolk Museum Service.> Oulton burial site: Sutton Hoo-era Anglo-Saxon cemetery discovered
28 August 2020
Can the history of a field affect the crops that grow in it today? The answer is yes.
In this programme, the historian, Dr Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough, visits a farm in Oxfordshire looking for secrets buried beneath the soil. She speaks to archaeologists and farmers about the impact historical human activity can have on today's crops; from raised phosphate levels on the site of a Roman villa, to increased lead along an old track.
She learns how the past can be used to inform the future of farming.> Secrets Beneath the Soil
22 August 2020
A Roman game piece and other artifacts were uncovered in an area slated for redevelopment in the walled city of Chester, which was founded as a Roman fort in A.D. 79. The bone game piece is lozenge-shaped and engraved with a ring and dot motif. It is thought to have been used to play Ludus Latrunculorum, the Game of Mercenaries, a two-player military strategy board game. Other artifacts recovered at the site include a possible bone comb, a possible spearhead, and a pin or brooch.> First Archaeological finds revealed from Chester Northgate site including a gaming piece
8 August 2020
Glass was highly valued across the Roman Empire, particularly a colorless, transparent version that resembled rock crystal. But the source of this coveted material - known as Alexandrian glass - has long remained a mystery. Now, by studying trace quantities of the element hafnium within the glass, researchers have shown that this prized commodity really did originate in ancient Egypt.
It was during the time of the Roman Empire that drinks and food were served in glass vessels for the first time on a large scale, said Patrick Degryse, an archaeometrist at KU Leuven in Belgium, who was not involved in the new study. "It was on every table," he said. Glass was also used in windows and mosaics.
All that glass had to come from somewhere. Between the first and ninth centuries A.D., Roman glassmakers in coastal regions of Egypt and the Levant filled furnaces with sand. The enormous slabs of glass they created tipped the scales at up to nearly 20 tons. That glass was then broken up and distributed to glass workshops, where it was remelted and shaped into final products.
But what many people really wanted was colorless glass, so glassmakers experimented with adding different elements to their batches. Producers in the Levant are known to have added manganese, which reacts with iron impurities in sand. The manganese-treated glass still retained a bit of color, however, said Gry Hoffmann Barfod, a geoscientist at Aarhus University in Denmark who led the study, which was published this month in Scientific Reports. "It wasn't perfect," she said. Glassmakers also tried adding antimony, with much better results. "That made it completely crystal clear," Dr. Barfod said.
And expensive: A price list issued by the Roman emperor Diocletian in the early fourth century A.D. refers to this colorless glass as 'Alexandrian' and values it at nearly double the price of manganese-treated glass. But the provenance of Alexandrian glass, despite its name, had never been conclusively pinned to Egypt.
"We have the factories for manganese-decolorized glass, but we don't have them for the Alexandrian glass," Dr. Barfod said. "It's been a mystery that historians have dreamed of solving."
Glass forged in different geographic regions had different hafnium signatures, Dr. Barfod and her collaborators showed. Egyptian glass consistently contained more of the chemical hafnium and had lower isotopic ratios than glass produced in the Levant, the team found.
After being expelled from the mouth of the Nile, sand sweeps east and north up the coast of the Levant, propelled by water currents. The zircon crystals within it are heavy, so they tend to settle out early in the journey on Egyptian beaches. That explains why glass forged in Egyptian furnaces tends to contain more hafnium than Levantine glass, the researchers suggest.> The Romans Called it 'Alexandrian Glass.' Where Was It Really From?
24 July 2020
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
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
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
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
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
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 Snettisham hoard, thought to be from the stock of a single jeweller, was buried in a pot in about AD155 and rediscovered during building work.
The ring, unearthed at Upper Winchendon near Aylesbury, has been bent, so experts can't be sure about its original design. However, the Snettisham hoard had pieces in it with this type of snake head, so it's possible it came from the same workshop but, as it was found in a field with no archaeological context, experts cannot be certain.
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 silver ring would have belonged to someone with access to a fair amount of money, whereas less valuable versions were made of copper-alloy (bronze).
The ring, found in March 2018, was declared treasure at Buckinghamshire Coroner's Court. A museum has expressed an interest in buying the ring and is waiting for the Treasure Valuation Committee's verdict on the price.> Roman snake ring found in Buckinghamshire declared treasure
15 February 2020
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 9781846743924> The Boxford Mosaic
25 November 2019
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
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
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
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.
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