Tuesday, December 19, 2023

The battle was likely fought around 15 B.C.E. between Roman troops and local Suanetes fighters, who lost the bout.

Archaeologists at work uncovering evidence of a battle that was fought in the Julier Valley around 15 B.C.E. image: Archaeological Service Graubünden

oday, the Julier Valley in Switzerland is an idyllic place with majestic mountains and wide, green fields. But some 2,000 years ago, archaeologists now believe that it was the site of a fierce battle between Roman soldiers and local warriors, one which changed the course of history and helped lead to the Roman occupation of modern-day Switzerland.

During the examination of the site, which is located in the Crap-Ses gorge between the towns of Tiefencastel and Cunter, archaeologists have found thousands of objects that allude to the valley’s violent past. These include swords, slingshot bullets, brooches, coins, fragments of shields, and thousands upon thousands of Roman hobnails, which were hammered into the soles of leather boots and shoes.

There is so much at the site, in fact, that archaeologists uncovered an average of 250 to 300 objects per day during a three-week period in the autumn.

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Oldest known ship burial discovered in Norway predates Vikings

An aerial view of the burial mound in central Norway. (Image credit: Geir Grønnesby)

A large, grassy hill in Norway known as the Herlaugshagen burial mound was likely the site of a pre-Viking ship burial, a new analysis finds.

Archaeologists have long wondered whether the oversize mound in Leka, a municipality in central Norway located along a known centuries-old shipping route, once housed a ship. This summer, researchers conducted surveys at the coastal site and discovered several large rivets that would have held the vessel together, as well as wooden remains that are likely from the ship, according to Norwegian SciTech News, a news outlet that provides coverage for the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and the Foundation for Industrial and Technical Research (SINTEF).

"The sizes of the ship's rivets and the preserved wood around several of the rivets show that the preservation conditions are good," Geir Grønnesby, an archaeologist at NTNU who led the surveys, told Live Science in an email. "This is the largest burial mound in Trøndelag (Central Norway) and one of the largest in Norway."

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Vikings Pillaged, Conquered And Cleaned Their Teeth With Toothpicks

A hole filed from the crown of a Viking tooth into the pulp to reduce toothache and infection. UNIVERSITY OF GOTHENBURG

After a long, hard day of pillaging with axes and swords, Vikings likely celebrated their victories with a feast that included a roasted pig or ox and goblets overflowing with ale. In movies and books about the ancient seafaring conquerors, they don’t pause their revelry to remove gristle from their teeth with toothpicks. But in real life, they did, according to a new study.

And toothpicks are just one way they cared for their chompers.

The study, published in the journal Plos One, describes what scientists discovered when they analyzed human teeth from about 800 to 1,000 years ago to gain a better sense of everyday oral health and habits in one community of Swedish Vikings. The researchers describe the sort of bleak dental picture common to medieval Europe—frequent tooth decay, infections and tooth loss. In the Viking population studied, 49% had one or more cavities, due largely to a high intake of starchy foods combined with a lack of dental care. Adults lost an average of 6% of their teeth, excluding wisdom teeth, over the course of their lifetimes.

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Was Honorius’ Letter Really Sent to Britain?

The Romans ruled Britain for nearly four centuries, from 43 CE until the beginning of the fifth century. Most commentators agree that the actions of Magnus Maximus can be viewed as the beginning of the end of Roman rule over Britain. He withdrew a large portion of Roman troops when he proclaimed himself emperor and set off to attack Emperor Gratian on the continent. This was in 383, quite some time before the fifth century. But while acknowledging that it was a gradual process, many modern sources claim that one specific year can be cited as the final end. In 410 Emperor Honorius wrote a letter telling the recipients that the Romans could no longer protect them. But was it really sent to Britain?

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Sutton Hoo Saxon ship reconstruction aims for 2025 sailing

The Sutton Hoo Saxon ship project, spearheaded by master shipwright Tim Kirk, is a remarkable effort to reconstruct the largest Saxon ship ever discovered.
Source: The Sutton Hoo Ship's Company

The treasures of Sutton Hoo in East Anglia are legendary, including the imprint left by the largest Saxon ship ever found.

Expert shipwright Tim Kirk has been leading a team of volunteers to create an authentic reconstruction of the vessel, with a view to it being sailed in 2025. 

With occasional references to the reconstruction activity at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Tim talks at length to The Viking Herald about how the project came about, the pitfalls of using a unique Saxon burial site as an army training ground, and the quest to discover what the ship was used for 1,400 years ago. 

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Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Stonehenge ‘risks losing world heritage status because of road project’

Stonehenge faces the risk of being “de-listed” as a Unesco world heritage site if plans for a nearby road project featuring a tunnel go ahead, the High Court has been told. Campaigners, who are bringing a second legal bid to block the plans, claim the Government was “irrational to give no weight” to the UN agency warning that approval of the £1.7 billion scheme warranted its inclusion on the “list of world heritage in danger”.

Lawyers for Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS) say this would mark “the first step being taken towards de-listing” and would be “the direct result” of the Government’s decision. SSWHS is challenging Transport Secretary Mark Harper’s backing of plans, which include the two-mile tunnel, to overhaul eight miles of the A303.

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Environmental stress rather than genetics influenced height differences in early Neolithic people: Study

Migrations of early farmers into Europe.
Credit: Nature Human Behaviour (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41562-023-01756-w

The difference in height between female and male individuals in northern Europe during the Early Neolithic (8,000–6,000 years before present, bp) may have been influenced by cultural factors, a paper published in Nature Human Behaviour suggests. The findings indicate that height differences during this period cannot be explained by genetic and dietary factors alone.

Culture and health are linked in the modern world; however, how this relationship evolved is unclear. Height is one indicator of health and being of a shorter height than expected based on genetics may indicate adverse environmental and/or dietary factors. Previous research has suggested that humans in the Neolithic did not reach their genetic height potential, but how this differed between regions and between sexes is unknown.

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Archaeologists unearth ‘most shocking example of Roman slavery’ at Pompeii

A bakery where enslaved people were imprisoned and exploited to produce bread has been discovered in the ruins of Pompeii in what has been described as the most shocking example of slavery in the ancient Roman city.

The cramped bakery with small windows barred with iron was part of a home that emerged during excavations in the Regio IX area of the Pompeii archaeological park in southern Italy.

The discovery provides more evidence on the daily life of Pompeii’s enslaved people, often forgotten about by historical sources but who made up most of the population and whose hard labour propped up the city’s economy as well as the culture and fabric of Roman civilisation.

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Pompeii Bakery Yields Evidence of Enslaved Workers

(Pompeii Archaeological Park)

ROME, ITALY—The Guardian reports that a small bakery equipped with windows blocked by iron bars has been uncovered in the Regio IX area of Pompeii. The remains of three people have been recovered from the structure, which may have been undergoing renovations when it was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. Markings on the floor of the bakery are thought to have directed the movement of enslaved workers and animals that were likely blindfolded while grinding grain and baking bread in the space. The bakery’s only exit led to the main hall of the luxurious residential section of the structure. 

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‘Shocking Side Of Ancient Slavery’: Prison Bakery Where Enslaved People Toiled Unearthed In Pompeii

The “prison bakery” in Pompeii is just one of the latest archaeological discoveries in the doomed town.

There have been some astounding discoveries in Pompeii in recent years, including a ceremonial chariot, the ancient Roman version of a “fast food stand,” and erotic frescoes. But the latest discovery sheds light on an often overlooked part of Pompeii society: slavery.

Archaeologists excavating the doomed city, which was destroyed with the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 C.E., recently announced the discovery of a “prison bakery” where humans and animals toiled under brutal conditions to make bread. According to a statement from the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, the cramped room had no view of the outside world and only a few high, barred windows. Indentations in the floor showed where blindfolded donkeys were forced to walk for hours in order to grind grain for bread.

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Roman-Era Winery Uncovered in Southern France

LAVEYRON, FRANCE—According to a Miami Herald report, researchers from France’s National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) discovered remnants of a 1,900-year-old winery during an investigation conducted ahead of a construction project near the Rhône River in southern France. The wine was likely consumed by Romans, who conquered the region in 53 B.C. Grapes would have been pressed on the site’s central platform. Basins on either site of it would have collected the grape juice, then drained it into cellars made of rectangular bricks. 

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Roman 'backwater' bucked Empire's decline, archaeologists reveal

View of the Interamna Lirenas excavation from above and from the North. Photograph taken in September 2023. The remains of the theater can be seen in the center, with the remains of the basilica behind it. Credit: Alessandro Launaro
A rare roofed theater, markets, warehouses, a river port and other startling discoveries made by a Cambridge-led team of archaeologists challenge major assumptions about the decline of Roman Italy.

New findings from Interamna Lirenas, traditionally written off as a failed backwater in Central Italy, change our understanding of Roman history, its excavators believe.

Their thirteen-year study—published today in the edited volume "Roman Urbanism in Italy"—shows that the town in Southern Lazio continued to thrive well into the 3rd century A.D., bucking what is normally considered Italy's general state of decline in this period.

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The U.K.’s Oldest Known Scientific Instrument, Dubbed an ‘Early Computer,’ Heads to Auction

The Chetwode Quandrant. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd. 2023.

A medieval scientific instrument once used for telling the time by tracking the position of the sun is being offered by Christie’s London. Carrying an estimate of £100,000–£150,000 ($125,000–$188,000), it is one of the highlights of the “Valuable Books and Manuscripts” sale, which will take place on December 13.

Known as an “horary quadrant,” the timepiece has also been dubbed “an early computer.” An inscription tells us that the rare object is from 1311, making it the oldest known example from England. The use of these devices was first recorded in Montpellier in the 13th century, and they eventually became trendy must-have items among astrologers and aristocrats alike.

Remarkably, the quadrant is made from just a slim slice of copper with various engraved metrics that help interpret the altitude of the sun and a radial sundial for telling the time. A spinning index pointer was once used to determine the date of Easter, which falls on the Sunday after the first full moon of the spring equinox.

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Monday, December 11, 2023

Who Were the First Modern Humans To Settle in Europe? Scientists Shed New Light

A new study examines the early migration of humans to Europe, focusing on a study of 36,000-year-old skull fragments from Crimea. These findings connect these early settlers to the Gravettian culture, demonstrating their significant role in shaping early European civilization.

Before the permanent settlement of modern humans in Europe, other human populations migrated from Africa to Europe around 60,000 years ago. However, they did not establish long-term settlements. Around 40,000 years ago, a significant climate crisis, along with a super-eruption from the Phlegraean Fields volcanic region near present-day Naples, led to a decrease in the early European populations.

Discovering Europe’s First Modern Human Settlers

To determine who the first modern humans to settle definitively in Europe were, a team led by CNRS scientists analyzed the genome of two skull fragments from the Buran Kaya III site in Crimea dating to 36,000 and 37,000 years ago.

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'Beautifully made' Bronze Age gold torc fragment found at Erpingham

A tiny, twisted fragment of a gold torc made thousands of years ago has been uncovered by a metal detectorist.

The "beautifully made" Bronze Age piece was made from a twisted gold rod just 0.09in (2.4mm) thick and had been bent into an 0.43in (11mm) loop.

The piece was found in a field near Erpingham, Norfolk, in September and dates to between 1400-1100BC.

It could have been intended for reuse, or as "a neat little offering to the gods", said historian Helen Geake.

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Delve into the secrets of the runes with new course starting January

The third of our three short courses starting in January focuses on runes – a writing system that developed in western Europe in the first millennium AD.

Entitled Runology, the course is delivered online so open to anyone. It introduces students to reading runic inscriptions and provide them with an overview of the historical and geographical distribution of runic alphabets – with a particular emphasis on examples from Orkney and Shetland.

It will also give participants a basic understanding of the Old Norse language, necessary to read runic inscriptions.

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Friday, December 08, 2023

Ancient finds at Wisley interchange

Archaeologists have been having a field day on Balfour Beatty’s £317m M25 junction improvement project in Surrey.

For more than a year now Balfour Beatty has been working with Oxford Archaeology, casing the site of its new junction 10 on the M25 at Wisley, where it intersects with the A3.

Remains discovered include a late Bronze Age / early Iron Age settlement believed to date from around 1,000 to 500 BC and evidence of post-medieval agricultural practices.

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Thursday, December 07, 2023

Humanity’s oldest art is flaking away. Can scientists save it?

Ancient humans painted scenes in Indonesian caves more than 45,000 years ago, but their art is disappearing rapidly. Researchers are trying to discover what’s causing the damage and how to stop it — before the murals are gone forever.

On the southwestern peninsula of Sulawesi in Indonesia, a vast series of karst mountains rise like great knobby boulders from the flat floodplain. Beneath the lush tropical vegetation that blankets the spires, there are hundreds of caves, crevices and rock shelters — carved over millennia by water seeping through the porous limestone. For tens of thousands of years, these eroded cavities provided shelter for the region’s ancient residents, who left behind a pictorial record of their time there. On the walls, archaeologists have found painted hand stencils, stick-figure people and ochre-coloured depictions of warty pigs and miniature buffalo.

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World's only intact Roman shield and body armour unearthed on a battlefield where Germanic tribesmen wiped out three legions in AD9 to go on display at the British Museum

The shield, on loan from Yale University, was found in Syria in the 1930s
The body armour was discovered in 2018 in Kalkriese, north-west Germany

The world's only intact Roman shield and body armour that was found in a German field after being buried for more than 2,000 years are set to go on display in a new exhibition at the British Museum.

The shield, which is on its maiden transatlantic loan from Yale University in the US, was found in Syria in the 1930s.

Although discovered in pieces, it was restored to its former glory by experts and will be seen by the British public for the first time in the Legion: life in the Roman army exhibition, which opens on February 1 next year. 

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What teeth can reveal about the health of early medieval children

Researchers can learn much about a person through their teeth. This is even true for people who lived 1500 years ago in early medieval Germany.

A team of researchers led by Michaela Harbeck and Maren Velte from the Bavarian State Collection for Anthropology in Munich were able to analyze human teeth from various medieval cemeteries in Bavaria, which is now part of eastern Germany. They mainly come from the period around the year 500 AD.

Teeth are formed during childhood and are characterized by little or no remodeling during lifetime. This developmental quality makes them an ideal “archive of childhood.” Strontium isotopes, for example, indicate a person’s geographical origin, while analyses of carbon and nitrogen provide information on diet. Serial isotope analysis shows the course of nutrition from birth to around 20 years of age. This method reveals the transition process from breast milk feeding in infancy to the inclusion of solid food during early childhood.

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‘Bone Biographies’ Reconstruct Lives of Medieval Cambridge Commoners

Archaeologists from the University of Cambridge have compiled a series of “bone biographies” that shed new light on residents of medieval Cambridge. The project’s website, called After the Plague, chronicles the lives of 16 ordinary individuals who lived between the 11th and 15th centuries. This period notably includes the bubonic plague, which hit the city between 1348 and 1349.

“Our team used techniques familiar from studies such as Richard III’s skeleton, but this time to reveal details of unknown lives—people we would never learn about in any other way,” says John Robb, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge, in a statement. In other words, these are commoners: townsfolk, friars, merchants and scholars, among others.

Since the project began in 2016, researchers with the University of Cambridge have been working to pair historical evidence with personal narrative. “We have to humanize people we study because we have trouble relating to things that are alien,” Robb told the Washington Post’s Peter Holley in 2017. “We gravitate to familiarity.”

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Rare Byzantine gold coin found in Norway

A rare 10th century Byzantine gold coin has been discovered by a metal detectorist in Vestre Slidre, a ski town in the mountains of central Norway. It is in excellent condition, barely worn at all with no gold loss. It is the only one of its kind ever found in Norway.

The coin is a histamenon nomisma, the Byzantine solidus that was highly valued for its standard weight of 4.55 grams 24-carat gold, maintained consistently from the 4th century until the second half of the 10th century. The coin was minted in Constantinople, 1,600 miles from the find site.

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Top 10 archaeological discoveries of 2023

The field of archaeology has been continuously evolving in 2023, making significant strides in uncovering new historical findings, preserving cultural heritage, and employing innovative technologies to study the past.

Archaeologists have discovered an exceptionally well-preserved tomb containing frescoes in the municipality of Giugliano in Campania, Italy. The most notable fresco depicts Cerberus (thus the tomb being designated “Tomb of Cerburus”), the three-headed dog from Ancient Greek mythology. Cerberus, also referred to as the “hound of Hades”, guarded the gates of the Underworld to prevent the dead from leaving. The scene represents the last of Heracles’ twelve labors, in which Cerberus is captured by Heracles.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Take a Virtual Tour of the Lascaux Cave Paintings

The Lascaux Caves enjoyed a quiet existence for some 17,000 years.

Then came the summer of 1940, when four teens investigated what seemed to be a fox’s den on a hill near Montignac, hoping it might lead to an underground passageway of local legend.

Once inside, they discovered the paintings that have intrigued us ever since, expanding our understanding of prehistoric art and human origins, and causing us to speculate on things we’ll never have an answer to.

The boys’ teacher reached out to several prehistorians, who authenticated the figures, arranged for them to be photographed and sketched, and collected a number of bone and flint artifacts from the caves’ floors.

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Closer look at the Menga dolmen shows it was one of the greatest engineering feats of the Neolithic

The capstone C-5 in Cerro de la Cruz Quarry #2. Drawing: Moisés Bellilty under guidance of José Antonio Lozano Rodríguez and Leonardo García Sanjuán. 

A team of archaeologists, geologists and historians affiliated with several institutions in Spain has found that the Menga dolmen represents one of the greatest engineering feats of the Neolithic. In their study, published in Scientific Reports, the group used new technology to learn more about the stone that was used to create the ancient burial site and to explore how wood and rope would have been used in its construction.

The Menga dolmen is an ancient burial mound located near Antequera, Málaga, Spain. It has been dated to approximately 5,700 years ago and is one of the largest known megalithic structures to be built in Europe. It was built into the top of a hill using large stones, the largest of which weigh more than 100 tons. In this new effort, the research team took a closer look at the composition of the stones used to build the burial mound, where they came from and how they were transported.

To learn more about the makeup of the stones, the research team used petrographic and stratigraphic analysis techniques, which showed that the stones were mostly calcarenites, a type of detrital sedimentary rock. In the modern age, they are known as soft stones due to their fragility. According to the researchers, such a soft type of rock would have been difficult to transport without causing damage—a finding that suggests a certain level of engineering sophistication.

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Archaeologists reveal life stories of hundreds of people from medieval Cambridge

The remains were found during excavations of the former site of the hospital of St John the Evangelist in 2010. Photograph: Cambridge Archaeological Unit/St John's College/PA

Archaeologists at Cambridge University have reconstructed the “biographies” of hundreds of the city’s ordinary medieval residents by examining their skeletons in detail, using a wealth of scientific data to fill out the life stories of poor or disadvantaged people whose names were never recorded.

By examining the bones of more than 400 adults and children who were buried in the grounds of a medieval hospital between AD1200 and 1500, the researchers have built up a detailed picture of the lives, health and even appearance of those who lived and died in Cambridge in the period.

They also gained clues to how the charitable institution operated its medieval “benefits system” and decided who was worthy of help in what must have been an overwhelming “sea of need”.

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Rollo: Viking Sea Lord, Chieftain, Lone Wolf And The First Ruler Of Normandy

At the height of their glory, the Vikings formed many new Scandinavian dynasties. At first, they were considered foreigners, but they eventually integrated with local communities, even religiously.

One of them was Rollo (also known as Gånge-Rolf), an ancestor of the famous William the Conqueror, who led the conquest of Normans to England and became king of the country in 1066.

Believed to have lived between 846 and 931 AD, the first historical account of Rollo detailed his leadership of the Vikings during their siege of Paris from 885 to 6 AD.

Mentioned in Icelandic sagas, as a man of high social status, Rollo is often referred to as Rolf the Walker ("Ganger-Hrolf, "in Old Danish) because he had such an imposing figure that his horse could not carry him and was obliged to travel on foot

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Scandinavia's oldest known ship burial is located in mid-Norway

This summer, archaeologists and a metal detectorist conducted a small survey of Herlaugshagen, at Leka in the northern part of Trøndelag County. They found something amazing.

The goal was to date a burial mound and find out if it contained a ship. They carried out the surveys on behalf of the Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage and in collaboration with Trøndelag County Authority.

The archaeologists were over the moon when they found large rivets confirming that this was indeed a ship burial, and their enthusiasm didn't subside when the finds were recently dated.

"The mound was constructed in approximately 700 CE. This is called the Merovingian period and precedes the Viking Age. This dating is really exciting because it pushes the whole tradition of ship burials quite far back in time," said Geir Grønnesby, an archaeologist at the NTNU University Museum.

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