Saturday, December 14, 2019

Roman remains: a walk through history in Snowdonia

Hold that fort … Tomen y Mur was built to control local tribes in AD78

Medieval Welsh mythology and Roman history collide and come to life at the Tomen y Mur hill fort

Wherever you walk in Wales, it turns out that you’re tracking some ancient, mythic storyline or other – and nowhere more so than at Tomen y Mur (“the mound on the wall”), a Roman fort and amphitheatre in Snowdonia national park, which sits beside a crossing of four Roman roads.

Tomen y Mur, surprisingly unsignposted in spite of its significance, sits on the lower slopes of Mynydd Maentwrog, not far from the A470 to the north-east of Llyn Trawsfynydd reservoir. The fort, now a scheduled monument, was constructed under governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola in 78AD, as part of his campaign to control the native Ordovices, a Celtic tribe who resisted Roman rule with some enthusiasm. Agricola’s response was a brutal campaign which, according to Roman chronicler (and Agricola’s son-in-law) Tacitus, almost wiped out the tribe.

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Ancient wonders: five little-known archaeological sites in the UK

 Mên-an-Tol, known locally as the Crick Stone, in Cornwall England. 
Photograph: Paul Williams/Alamy

Our landscape is studded with reminders of past peoples. An expert in the field chooses her favourite windows into antiquity

Mên-an-Tol, Penwith Moor, near Madron, Cornwall

The name means “stone with a hole” in Cornish and the site is probably about 4,000 years old, dating from the bronze age. There are more stones hidden under the turf. What’s clear is that you’re in an ancient landscape – there’s a neolithic enclosure on the hillside, bronze-age barrow burials and the Boskednan Nine Maidens stone circle nearby. Some 400 metres to the north of the Mên-an-Tol is the Mên Scryfa, probably a bronze-age standing stone that was reused some time between 450-650AD as a grave marker. It’s inscribed with RIALOBRANI CVNOVALI FILI in Roman lettering, meaning “Rialobranus, son of Cunovalus”. Rialobran, or Ryalvran, is a native Cornish name, and may mean “royal raven”.

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Thursday, December 12, 2019

'Earliest ever' family photo taken at Stonehenge discovered by experts

A long way from a selfie, a family pose in horse drawn carriage in front of 
Stonehenge in 1875 ( PA )

A faded black and white picture of a group posing in front of Stonehenge could be the oldest existing family photo of the ancient British attraction.

English Heritage asked people to send in their pictures to mark 100 years of public ownership of the prehistoric monument.

After sifting through more than 1,000 photographs, they believe some images from 1875 are the oldest.

One picture shows the group sitting on the stones – which is now only allowed on special occasions – with a picnic rug and what appears to be a bottle of champagne.

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‘Humans were not centre stage’: how ancient cave art puts us in our place

 Paleolithic artwork in Lascaux, France. 
Photograph: Sissie Brimberg/National Geographic/Getty Images

In our self-obsessed age, the anonymous, mysterious cave art of our ancient ancestors is exhilarating. 
By Barbara Ehrenreich

In 1940, four teenage boys stumbled, almost literally, from German-occupied France into the Paleolithic age. As the story goes – and there are many versions of it – they had been taking a walk in the woods near the town of Montignac when the dog accompanying them suddenly disappeared. A quick search revealed that their animal companion had fallen into a hole in the ground, so – in the spirit of Tintin, with whom they were probably familiar – the boys made the perilous 15-metre descent to find it. They found the dog and much more, especially on return visits illuminated with paraffin lamps. The hole led to a cave, the walls and ceilings of which were covered with brightly coloured paintings of animals unknown to the 20th-century Dordogne – bison, aurochs and lions. One of the boys later reported that, stunned and elated, they began to dart around the cave like “a band of savages doing a war dance”. Another recalled that the painted animals in the flickering light of the boys’ lamps seemed to be moving. “We were completely crazy,” yet another said, although the build-up of carbon dioxide in a poorly ventilated cave may have had something to do with that.

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Savvy Sonar Tech Uncovers Enormous Roman Shipwreck Off Greece

Sonar technology has been used to identify one of the biggest Roman shipwreck ever found in the Mediterranean Sea. It is believed that the vessel lay at the bottom of the seabed for 2000 years.

The wreck was located off the Greek island of Kefalonia, between 2013 and 2014 during “an underwater natural and cultural heritage assessment survey,” reports the Journal of Archaeological Science . It was found not far from the fishing port of Fiskardo. The shipwreck has been named after the village as it is now called the ‘Fiskardo shipwreck’.

Savvy Sonar Technology
During the survey, side-scan sonar detection technology was used by a Greek team to identify the ancient vessel on the seabed.  This form of sonar technology can generate images of the seafloor, and it “works by beaming out high-frequency sound pulses in a wide fan shape from a boat floating on the surface,” reports The Daily Mail . When these pulses strike objects on the floor, they provide data that can be used to create a model of the seabed.

his type of sonar technology can differentiate shipwrecks from other objects and features, even if they have similar sonic signatures, which means that it’s very popular with marine archaeologists. The Greek team also found two World War II wrecks in the same general area, which evidences the effectiveness of the technology used.

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The first Ancient Roman fortification in Almus, today’s Lom on the Danube, was built in the middle of the 1st century AD, as per the latest discoveries.
 Photo: Lom Museum of History Facebook Page

An Early Roman fort from the 1st century AD has been discovered in the Ancient Roman city of Almus in today’s town of Lom on the Danube in Northwest Bulgaria, demonstrating that the first Roman fortifications on the site were built substantially earlier than previously known.

The main Almus Fortress is known to have been built in the 3rd – 4th century, during the reigns of Roman Emperors Diocletian (r. 284-305 AD) and Constantine the Great (r. 306-337 AD).

However, during the 2019 excavations of the Roman city of Almus in the early fall, the Bulgarian archaeologists have discovered archaeological layers dating as early as the second half of the 1st century AD.

In them, they have found part of an Early Roman fortress wall, a street with a canal, a destroyed barracks that housed a contubernium, the smallest unit of soldiers in the Roman army, and a luxury building, which may have been used as customs, reports local news site MediaNews.

Inside the destroyed contubernium barracks, the archaeologists have discovered a gold phalera – an Ancient Roman decoration awarded as a medal to military officers.

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Sulawesi art: Animal painting found in cave is 44,000 years old


A painting discovered on the wall of an Indonesian cave has been found to be 44,000 years old.

The art appears to show a buffalo being hunted by part-human, part-animal creatures holding spears and possibly ropes.

Some researchers think the scene could be the world's oldest-recorded story.

The findings were presented in the journal Nature by archaeologists from Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia.

Adam Brumm - an archaeologist at Griffith - first saw the pictures two years ago, after a colleague in Indonesia shimmied up a fig tree to reach the cave passage.

"These images appeared on my iPhone," said Mr Brumm. "I think I said the characteristic Australian four-letter word out very loud."

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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Burial site ties major Viking swords find to warriors from Rävala

An archeological dig in Tõnismäe. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Last year, Estonia's largest Viking sword fragments find was unearthed on the country's northern coast. Burial artefacts found in the same area this year suggest that the swords were used by local warriors from the ancient county of Rävala.

Archeologist and keeper of the numismatic collection of the Tallinn University Archeological Research Collection Mauri Kiudsoo told BNS that the burial site discovered this year lied just a few dozen meters from last year's find and that both the grave and the sword find date back to the 10th century. "These finds are linked," Kiudsoo said. "The brooch we found confirms the hypothesis that the swords were used by local warriors from the ancient county of Rävala."

Archeologists discovered an in-ground burial site on the north Estonian coast, once the territory of the ancient county of Rävala, earlier this year. While the grave had been plowed over, archeologists came across fragments of spearheads, bridles, scythes and single-edged combat knives. The site also revealed a crossbow-shaped brooch with heads modeled after a poppy capsule that had been disfigured in a fire and a pair of spring scissors.

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Unearthing Scotland's first railway track at Tranent

A cobbled track for ponies to pull waggons along the railway track was found this year

An extensive archaeological excavation of Scotland's first railway track is planned for next year.

Wooden rails from the 297-year-old Tranent-Cockenzie Waggonway were uncovered in a dig in June this year.

Part of a cobbled horse track for the ponies which pulled the wagons up to coal pits at Tranent in East Lothian was also discovered.

A community project hopes next year excavation might unearth some of the timbers used to lay the railway.

The finds made this year by the 1722 Waggonway Heritage Group have been listed among Scotland's top five archaeological discoveries of 2019.

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Press Statement from the Council for British Archaeology

Press Statement from the Council for British Archaeology
The Executive Director for the Council for British Archaeology (CBA), Dr Mike Heyworth MBE, has announced that he will move on to new challenges in 2020 after 15 years in the role.
Dr Heyworth joined the CBA from English Heritage in 1990, working in a number of roles across the organisation before his appointment as Director in 2004.
During his tenure he oversaw the archaeology charity’s transition to an open membership organisation in 1993 as, alongside its network of CBA Groups, it expanded its mission to engage and involve the public in archaeology.
In the same year, Dr Heyworth oversaw the CBA taking on the management of the Young Archaeologists’ Club, which has now grown from 6 branches to nearly 80 around the UK.

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Weatherwatch: historic UK buildings facing climate threat

During the summer heatwaves, temperatures in the main rooms at Ham House rose to almost 50C. Photograph: Tony Watson/Alamy

Soaring temperatures making National Trust properties ‘no longer safe places’ for visitors

Ham House on the banks of the Thames, near Richmond, is a masterpiece. The building is a rare survival of 17th-century luxury and taste with large windows in its facade facing the sun.

The architect’s idea was to take advantage of passive heating, a common practice in past centuries during the construction of grand houses. But for the National Trust, the current owner of many of these mansions, the climate emergency has brought a serious headache.

Keith Jones, its climate change specialist, used Ham House as an illustration when he told a conference that during the heatwaves this year, some National Trust properties were forced to close because of the danger to visitors and volunteers posed by temperatures exceeding 40C (104F).

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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Early Bronze Age ring-ditch at Clitheroe

One of the bipartite Collared Urns found in the ring-ditch [Image: © ARS Ltd]

An Early Bronze Age (c.1950-1500 BC) ring-ditch has been excavated by Archaeological Research Services (ARS) above the floodplain of the River Ribble at Clitheroe, Lancashire.

This ring-ditch takes one of the characteristic forms of Early Bronze Age burial site in northern England, that of the flat ‘ringwork’ that lacks either an earthen or stone mound. This form is associated in particular with the Pennine Uplands. Pit-like features around the southern side of the ring-ditch, although predominantly natural in origin, might represent the bases of trees or shrubs that were intentionally planted to enhance the monument’s visual impact within the landscape.

The excavation identified nine cremation burials in a central position within the monument, four of which were found within near-complete bipartite Collared Urns (pictured), and two others in fragments.

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The art of the Roman surveyors emerges from newly discovered pavements in Pompeii


The technical skills of the Roman agrimensores - the technicians in charge of the centuriations (division of the lands) and of other surveys such as planning towns and aqueducts - are simply legendary. For instance, extremely accurate projects of centuriations are still visible today in Italy and in other Mediterranean countries. Their work had also religious and symbolic connections being related with the foundation of towns and the Etruscan's tradition.

These technicians were called Gromatics due to their chief working instrument, called Groma. It was based on a cross made of four perpendicular arms each bringing cords with identical weights, acting as plumb-lines. The surveyor could align with extreme precision two opposite, very thin plumb-lines with reference poles held at various distances by assistants or fixed in the terrain, in the same manner as palines (red and white posts) are used in modern theodolite surveying.

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Roman villa unearthed in southern England

Credit: Bournemouth University

A well preserved Roman villa has been rediscovered at the Dorset Wildlife Trust nature reserve, Nunnery Mead, near Frampton.

The dig was carried out by experts from Bournemouth University. Thought to be destroyed in the mid-nineteenth century, the team were delighted to find a well-preserved site.

Dr Miles Russell, Senior Lecturer in Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology Department of Archaeology and Anthropology Faculty of Science and Technology Bournemouth University, said: “The opportunity to survey, record and better understand the Roman villa at Nunnery Mead, Frampton, was one we couldn’t miss, given that the building was thought to have been destroyed in the mid-19th century.

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Iron Age shield found during Pocklington dig fully restored

Pocklington Iron Age shield following cleaning and restoration work
[Credit: MAP Archaeological Practice]

The shield was part of an impressive ‘warrior grave’ find uncovered at a Persimmon Homes ‘The Mile’ development last year and now a preservation project has revealed its full glory.

The remarkably preserved bronze shield was found laid face down in the cart of an upright chariot, which had been drawn by two ponies.

The skeleton of a post 46-year-old male was laid upon the shield and is considered to be the shield’s owner.

Experts say it is the most important British Celtic art object of the Millennium.

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Nine 'amazing' Bronze Age figurines found at Orkney dig

The carvings have all been "pecked" to give them shoulders, 
a neck and what looks like a head

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.

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Neue Entdeckungen am Leubinger Grabhügel

Nachbestattungen am Fuß des Leubinger Großgrabhügels. 
Foto: M. Küßner, TLDA, Weimar

Seit 2016 werden erstmals seit 140 Jahren im Vorfeld und am sogenannten Leubinger Hügel selbst archäologische Untersuchungen durch das Thüringische Landesamt für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie (TLDA) vorgenommen. Dabei traten bisher völlig unbekannte Befunde zutage: ein kleiner vorgelagerter Grabhügel, spätbronzezeitliche Gräber um den Haupthügel sowie Hinweise auf seine tatsächliche Größe.

Der Leubinger Fürstenhügel ist der größte noch weitgehend erhaltene frühbronzezeitliche Grabhügel Mitteleuropas. Die Ausstattung des »Fürsten« mit Gold in einer aufwendigen Grabkammer enormer Größe in diesem monumentalen Hügel bezeugt einen Machtanspruch frühbronzezeitlicher Herrschaft. Der Hügel ist eingebettet in eine über tausende von Jahren entstandene kleine Totenlandschaft.

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Roman shipwreck from time of Jesus Christ found with 'exciting' cargo on board

Researchers believe the ship to have been in operation between the first century BC 
and the first century AD

A Roman shipwreck dating back to the time of Jesus Christ has been found in a huge archaeological breakthrough.

It was discovered off the coast of a Greek island - and it had some unexpected cargo on board.

The boat was being held down with jugs used to store wine and food, it has been claimed.

The well-preserved containers, known as amphorae, were probably carrying olive oil and grains as well.

The jars have been analysed by experts who determined when they were used by the Greeks and the Romans.

The vessel is understood to measure 34m in length and 13m in width.

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Monday, December 09, 2019

Archaeological Study Tour to Orkney

EMAS Study Tour to Orkney
14 – 23 April 2020
There are still a few places left on the EMAS Archaeological Society Study Tour to Orkney.

However, hotel places are very limited, so an early reply is advised.

You can find further details on the EMAS website.

Further details...

Roman silver coin hoard found in Switzerland

Hoard of silver denarii found near Pratteln, Switzerland
[Credit: Nicole Gebhard, Archaeology Baselland]

A Roman treasure of 293 silver coins has been discovered in a forest near Pratteln in northwestern Switzerland. The find is one of the largest Roman silver hoards in Switzerland. The coins are exclusively denarii, which according to information from Archaologie Baselland are in very good overall condition. A volunteer from Archaologie Baselland found the hoard in the summer of 2019 on the slope of the Adlerberge near Pratteln Baselland.

The oldest coin was struck under Emperor Nero, who reigned between AD 54 and 68. Most of the coins date from the second century, the most recent from the time of Emperor Commodus - they were struck in Rome in AD 181/182.

According to the communique, the find is second largest assemblage Roman silver coin hoards in Switzerland, after the treasure of Augusta Raurica (Kaiseraugst) discovered in the immediate vicinity.

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Intact deposit of prehistoric funerary vessels found in Minorca

Credit: Museu de Menorca

An intact deposit comprising a collection of some 50 well preserved prehistoric vases, accompanied by the remains of bones of animals, mainly goats, sheep and pigs, has been documented by a group of archaeologists from the Museum of Minorca in what is considered "an exceptional find".

The discovery is still in the process of being studied but specialists interpret that this deposit of vases would have formed part of the funerary rituals of commensality linked to burials in lime arranged within the hypogeum, an event never before documented in Minorca.

On the occasion of the forthcoming exhibition dedicated to the archaeologist Joan Flaquer Fabregues (1887-1963), promoted by the Museum of Minorca, several studies have been carried out dedicated to his figure as well as his private collection, which has been deposited in the Museum since 2017.

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Saturday, December 07, 2019

Floor pavements in Pompeii illustrate surveying technology

Decorative pavements in the floor of a recently unearthed Roman house in Pompeii offer a glimpse into the life and work of an ancient land surveyor. The pavements depict a stylized drawing of an ancient surveyor’s tool called a groma, along with a diagram of a surveying technique and the plan of a construction project in Pompeii. So far, they’re the only original Roman illustrations of the tools and techniques the Romans used to help build an empire and its infrastructure.

The land surveyor’s house
Only a few metal fragments of a Roman groma exist today (also recovered from Pompeii), and archaeologists have found only a few images carved into surveyors’ tombstones. Otherwise, we know the tool only from descriptions in medieval versions of ancient Roman surveying manuals.

The newly unearthed pavements at Pompeii suggest that those medieval copies were pretty close to the original ancient texts. An image on the floor of the entrance hall is nearly identical to illustrations in medieval copies of Roman texts, attributed to Roman surveyor Hygius and famed architect Vitruvius.

Colored tiles laid into the crushed terracotta pavement depict a circle with a square drawn inside. Lines divide the square into eight equal sections. In Hygius’ and Vitruvius’ texts, the image illustrates how to orient a building to one of the cardinal directions. On the floor of the house, the image shows how the house is oriented in relation to the four cardinal directions: one of the lines points along the length of the house, which faces northeast. Meanwhile, the corners of the square point north, south, east, and west.

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Celtic warrior from 2,000 years ago buried in chariot with weapons and ponies hailed as most important find of its kind in UK

A Celtic warrior’s grave containing weapons and upright pony skeletons has been described by experts as a unique and significant discovery for the UK. 

A 2,000-year-old shield, which was found next to the ancient Briton’s remains, is “the most important British Celtic art object of the millennium”, said Dr Melanie Giles, of the University of Manchester. 

Archaeologists said that the burial site in Pocklington, east Yorkshire, is the only one in the UK where modern archaeologists have found horses buried in a “chariot grave”. 

About 20 humans buried inside chariots have been found in the past 100 years or so, mostly in Yorkshire – although not with horses. 

Paula Ware, the director of Map Archaeological Practice, which excavated the grave, said: “The magnitude and preservation of the Pocklington chariot burial has no British parallel, providing a greater insight into the Iron Age epoch.”  

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What caused this great warship to sink?

Heralded as the greatest warship of its time, the Vasa sank within 20 minutes of its maiden voyage. Nearly 400 years later, no-one knows why.

When it set sail from the Bay of Stockholm in 1628, the Vasa was the world’s most high-tech warship. Built under King Gustav II Adolf, the Vasa was 68m long and carried an unprecedented 64 cannons. It is one of the earliest examples of a warship with two full gun decks. This vast, beautifully decorated vessel’s glory days did not last for long, though: 20 minutes into its maiden voyage, the boat sank, killing 30 of its passengers.

The Vasa sat at the bottom of the bay for around three centuries, until archaeologists unearthed the ship, restoring and displaying it in what has become the most-visited museum in all of Scandinavia.

The story of the Vasa’s quick sinking has gone down as one of the most colossal failures and greatest mysteries in naval architectural history. After a strong gust of wind, the ship leaned to the side and began to take on water through open cannon ports. It sank in full view of a crowd gathered to celebrate the ship’s first voyage, publicly cementing the Vasa as a national catastrophe.

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Iron age shield found in Yorkshire burial is the find 'of the millennium'

The conserved bronze shield found at Pocklington which has been hailed as 'the most important British Celtic art object of the millennium'
(Photo: Yorkshire Post)

After centuries underground, the dirt-encrusted object gave little hint of what it would reveal.

But painstaking conservation work has revealed what experts are now hailing as “the most important British Celtic art object of the millennium”.

The remarkably well preserved bronze shield, with a swirling pattern design, formed part of a unique chariot burial, which also contained the upright skeletons of two ponies found on a building site at Pocklington in 2018.

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Londinium Romans’ blood lead levels so high they may have lowered birth rates

A team of archaeologists and health scientists has found that lead poisoning could have afflicted city dwellers in Londinium, the Roman settlement on the site of modern London, during the Roman occupation of ancient Britain.1 The levels of lead they found in Londinium Roman bones were so high that they would have exceeded limits considered toxic.
Environmental health scientist Sean Scott of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and colleagues found that lead levels in bones taken from three cemeteries in Londinium may be more than 70 times higher than those in remains from pre-Roman Iron Age Britain. And an analysis of the lead isotope composition fits with that seen previously in Roman-age lead pollution in Britain. The researchers say that the lead levels are high enough to have had a possible effect on health, perhaps even reducing birth rates.
Lead pollution during Roman times has been demonstrated previously,2 but generally has been associated with lead mining. It hasn’t been clear whether serious lead pollution could have afflicted ordinary citizens in Roman urban settlements.

Neolithic burial chamber discovered in northeastern France

First layer of skeletons in the burial chamber
[Credit: INRAP]

A team from Inrap announced that it has discovered a collective underground burial ground or hypogeum dating to the late Neolithic period in Saint-Memmie, a town in the Marne department of northeastern France, in which about fifty deceased people were buried, during excavations currently being carried out before the creation of a supermarket.

"This hypogeum dating from 3500 to 3000 years BC consists of an entrance opening onto a 3.80 metre long sloping corridor that leads to an antechamber allowing access to the 6 square metre burial chamber through a narrow crawl space," says the National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap) in a statement.

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'Only complete' 1,700-year-old Roman egg at Aylesbury dig

This egg was cast into a watery pit, possibly as part of a Roman funeral rite

The only complete chicken's egg from Roman Britain is a "genuinely unique discovery", according to an expert.

It was one of four hen's eggs found during a dig in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, although three broke releasing a "potent stench".

The "remarkable collection" of other organic finds included leather shoes, wooden tools and a "very rare" basket.

Archaeologist Edward Biddulph said the extent and range of discoveries "was more than could be foreseen".

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Thursday, December 05, 2019

Roman Secret Society Lodge Discovered in Pompeii

Stone and tile diagrams in an ancient Pompeii building have been linked to Roman surveyors and their sophisticated measuring tools and highly guarded secret craft.

Ancient Roman measuring specialists and town planners, known as ‘agrimensores’ used smart measuring instruments and these newly discovered images in the Casa di Orione, or the House of Orion, in the province of Naples, southern Italy, depict these mysterious tools. And furthermore, this location is believed to have been used by the measuring specialists as a center of their planning and measuring activities.

Examining the House of Orion 
Details of the ancient floors found in the house of Pompeii have been published in  a paper  by Massimo Osanna, director of the Pompeii archaeological site, and Luisa Ferro and Giulio Magli, of the School of Architecture at the Politecnico of Milan.

The Great Pompeii Project, an EU-backed initiative to restore the ancient Italian city, stated that a small section of the House of Orion had been excavated between 1892 and 1893, but the greater house was only discovered in December last year. And now, researchers believe their excavations have uncovered the first ever depiction of the “groma”, a clever measuring tool developed in ancient Egypt and later used by Greek then Roman land surveyors.

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Ancient Caithness settlement investigated by archaeologists

Dwellings at Wag of Forse were homes to people over different period of time, 
say archaeologists

Archaeologists are investigating what could turn out to be some of Scotland's best preserved Pictish homes.

The dwellings called wags, a type of longhouse, at Wag of Forse in Caithness may have been occupied by Picts from about 1,400 years ago.

The ruined properties form part of a settlement that also includes an Iron Age stone tower known as a broch.

Archaeologists know people lived in the settlement south of Wick over different periods of time in the past.

However, Pictish occupation has never been confirmed.

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Alcohol may have saved humanity from extinction, scientists claim

Our species’ ability to hold its booze may have stopped us dying out and enabled our conquest of Planet Earth (Picture: Getty)

Humanity’s ancestors may have been saved from extinction by alcohol, scientists have suggested.

In a new book, called Alcohol And Humans: A Long And Social Affair, professors Dr Kim Hockings and Dr Robin Dunbar say that African apes who lived around 10 million years ago evolved to metabolise ethanol, the chemical compound in alcohol.

These primates eventually gave rise not only to humans but also to chimps, bonobos and gorillas, all of which share the ability to break down booze. 

The common ape ancestor evolved to carry a protein that made metabolising ethanol more efficient, which allowed them to eat overripe fermented fruits that fell on the ground.

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An ancient outbreak of bubonic plague may have been exaggerated

A sixth century Eurasian plague, depicted in this painting as suddenly striking the Italian man on the left, was nowhere near as deadly and politically destabilizing as many scholars have assumed, an analysis indicates.

Archaeological evidence suggests a sixth century epidemic didn’t radically change European history

An ancient bubonic plague outbreak often characterized as a mass killer that felled Eurasian civilizations was actually pretty tame, researchers say.

Known as the Justinianic plague, the outbreak likely didn’t cause enough deaths to trigger major events such as the eastern Roman Empire’s decline, Islam’s rise and the emergence of modern Europe, say environmental historian Lee Mordechai and his colleagues.

Many scholars have argued that the Justinianic plague caused tens of millions of deaths starting in the sixth century and reduced European and Middle Eastern populations by 25 to 60 percent. Economies crumbled as a result, devastating what was left of the Roman Empire and ushering in a period of cultural stagnation, from this perspective.

But several new lines of archaeological evidence related to ancient population and economic changes challenge that scenario, Mordechai and his team report December 2 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Long-distance timber trade underpinned the Roman Empire's construction

Some of the oak planks in situ in the foundation of the portico
[Credit: Bernabei at al., 2019]

The timber requirements of ancient Rome were immense and complex, with different types of trees from various locations around the Roman Empire and beyond used for many purposes, including construction, shipbuilding and firewood. Unfortunately, the timber trade in ancient Rome is poorly understood, as little wood has been found in a state adequate for analysis. In this study, Bernabei et al successfully date and determine the origin and chronology of unusually well-preserved ancient Roman timber samples.

The twenty-four oak timber planks (Quercus species) analyzed in this study were excavated during Metro construction in Rome during 2014-2016. They formed part of a Roman portico in the gardens of via Sannio (belonging to what was once a lavishly decorated and rich property). The authors measured the tree-ring widths for each plank and ran statistical tests to determine average chronology, successfully dating thirteen of the planks.

By comparing their dated planks to Mediterranean and central European oak reference chronologies, the authors found that the oaks used for the Roman portico planks were taken from the Jura mountains in eastern France, over 1700km away. Based on the sapwood present in 8 of the thirteen samples, the authors were able to narrow the date these oaks were felled to between 40 and 60 CE and determined that the planks all came from neighboring trees. Given the timber's dimensions and the vast distance it travelled, the authors suggest that ancient Romans (or their traders) likely floated the timber down the Saône and Rhône rivers in present-day France before transporting it over the Mediterranean Sea and then up the river Tiber to Rome, though this cannot be confirmed.

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À l'occasion d'une fouille programmée sur le site d'Amiens-Renancourt, une équipe de l'Inrap, en collaboration avec le CNRS, a mis au jour une étonnante « Vénus » du Paléolithique supérieur ancien. Elle est la quinzième statuette découverte sur ce site qui fut peut-être un atelier orienté dans cette production.

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Metal detectorist makes pretty penny after ancient coins he found in Suffolk field sell for £90,000 at auction

Builder and metal detectorist Don Crawley holds a collection of Anglo Saxon silver pennies which form part of a hoard of 99. ( PA )

An "amazed"  builder and metal detectorist made a pretty penny after a haul of old coins which he found in a Suffolk field sold for £90,000 at auction. 

Don Crawley was taking his metal detector  for a spin in Suffolk when he discovered 99 silver coins at the site of a forgotten Saxon church. 

The 50-year-old, from Bucklesham, was visiting a farmer’s field for the first time when he made the discovery in 2017.

Auctioneers Dix Noonan Webb said the unnamed landowner did not want to reveal further details of the location of the find.

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Wednesday, December 04, 2019


Two or three chainmail armors from the Late Antiquity previously unseen in Bulgaria have been discovered in the ancient and medieval city of Deultum close to the Black Sea coast. 
Photo: Desant

An unknown type of well-preserved Late Antiquity chainmail armors from the last years of the Roman Empire before its division or the early Eastern Roman Empire, i.e. Byzantium, have been discovered by archaeologists in the Ancient Roman colony Deultum near the town of Debelt, Burgas District, close to the Black Sea coast in Southeast Bulgaria.

No such chainmail armors have been discovered in Bulgaria so far, and should be deemed very rare and intriguing finds internationally as well, as the artifacts date back to the period of the 4th – 6th century AD, whose armors still need lots of research, according to archaeologists.

Deultum was a Roman colony, which according to Roman law signified a status equal to that of the city of Rome itself. In today’s Bulgaria, there are only three Roman cities which enjoyed this status – Deultum (Colonia Flavia Pacis Deultensium) near Burgas, Ratiaria (Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria) near Archar, Ulpia Oescus near Gigen.

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Savoring the Danger: Romans Loved Toxic 'Sugar of Lead' Wine

How far did ancient people go to enhance the flavor of their food and drinks? Would they consume toxic substances if it made things a little more appetizing? The Romans did, by adding a sweet version of lead to a beloved beverage. Some scholars even say that it was lead poisoning that caused the famous empire to fall.

New Evidence for High Levels of Lead in Roman Bones
A new study shows that extremely high levels of lead have been found in the bones of 30 people who lived in Londinium (today’s London) during the 1st to 3rd centuries AD. The U.S. Institute for Occupational Health and Safety states that 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of adult blood indicates that the blood has become toxic – the researchers found an average of 14.4 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood in the thigh bones they studied.

Forbes says that the findings suggest “more than half of the population” in Roman-era London were dealing with issues caused by lead poisoning. Could it have come from the metal in their weapons, pipes, or jewelry? Or maybe the lead was directly ingested…

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Ancient necropolis discovered during roadworks in Sicily

The excavation site in Gela. Photo: Regione Sicilia

Workers installing cables under a road in the Sicilian town of Gela have uncovered part of an ancient Greek burial site.

Residents of Via Di Bartolo, in Gela, Sicily, had expected disrruption from roadworks this month as workers installed fibre optic cables under the street. But instead they've ended up with an archaeological dig taking place outside their front doors, after the Open Fiber cable company uncovered part of an ancient necropolis dating back to the 7th century BC.

Finds so far along the small strip of road include a ceramic water jug which contained the bones of a newborn baby, and parts of a large animal skeleton, according to local authorities.

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Monday, December 02, 2019

1,400-Year-Old Skeletons Reveal Location of Anglo-Saxon Enlightenment

Detailed isotope analysis was done on the Bamburgh skeletons. 
(Bamburgh bones / Facebook)

110 Anglo-Saxon skeletons dating to 1,400 years ago have been found under dunes in Bamburgh, England.

Dating to about the 7th-century or Early Middle Ages, the team of researchers say the skeletons belong to people of “high social standing” within the royal court. The hoard of human remains was originally discovered between 1998 and 2007 at the ‘Bowl Hole’ cemetery site which is thought to have been the burial ground for the medieval royal court of the Northumbrian palace, now located beneath dunes just south of Bamburgh Castle , in Northumberland, England.

Over the past two decades scientists from England’s Durham University have been studying the remains of 110 Anglo-Saxons buried near the famous Northumberland castle. According to a report in The Daily Mail while the greater part of Britain was experiencing the Dark Ages , travelers from all across Europe visited Bamburgh and it had its own “local enlightenment”, according to the team of university researchers.

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