Man with metal detector discovers a hoard of Bronze Age artifacts in a field

It's been a good summer for metal detectorists! In June, a fellow scanning a field in Rossett, Wales, UK found a 2,000-year-old Roman ingot. Around the same time, Mariusz Stepien turned up a hoard of Bronze Age artifacts in a field near Peebles, Scotland. The hoard, dating back to c.1000 BCE, is now at Edinburgh's National Museums Collection Center for further research. From CNN:

Stepien discovered a bronze object buried 1.5 feet under the ground, and reported his discovery to the Treasure Trove Unit after getting strong signals from the earth around the object.

Archeologists worked on the site for 22 days, and discovered a sword still in its scabbard, decorated straps, buckles, rings, ornaments and chariot wheel axle caps, as well as evidence of a decorative "rattle pendant" that would have been attached to the harness -- the first to be found in Scotland.

"I thought I've never seen anything like this before and felt from the very beginning that this might be something spectacular and I've just discovered a big part of Scottish history," Stepien, who has been detecting for almost nine years, said in a statement.

Stepien and his friends camped in the field for the duration of the 22-day dig, determined to witness the excavation from beginning to end.

image: Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service Read the rest

Man with metal detector turns up rare 2,000-year-old Roman artifact

My dad used to enjoy combing the beach (and his backyard) with a metal detector, but unfortunately he never dug up anything like this 2,000-year-old Roman ingot that metal detector hobbyist (metal detective? metal detectorist!) Rob Jones found in a field in Rossett, Wales, UK. The lead object is approximately one-half meter long and weighs 63 kilograms. The Wrexham County Borough Museum & Archives purchased the artifact for an undisclosed price and will put it on display. Once COVID-19 mandates permit, the museum and the University of Chester plan to conduct archaeological research in the area. From the Shropshire Star:

The rare find is particularly significant for archaeologists and historians because of its potentially early date, the location of the find spot, and because of its unique inscription.

"We don’t yet know where this ingot has come from and we will probably never know where it was going to," [said local Finds Officer Susie White.] "However given the find spots of other ingots from Britain of similar date, it may have been destined for continental Europe, perhaps even Rome itself. The object could tell us a great deal about this important period of our past, a period which is still poorly understood in this area of the country.”

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'Astonishing' giant circle of pits found at Stonehenge

• A 1.2 mile (2km) wide circle of large shafts was found, measuring over 10 meters wide and 5 meters deep.

• The holes surround the ancient settlement of Durrington Walls, 2 miles (3km) from Stonehenge.

• Tests suggest the earthworks are Neolithic, excavated over 4,500 years ago. Read the rest

A truck crashed into one of the Easter Island head statues and destroyed it

A pickup truck crashed into one of Easter Island's iconic moai statues, carved by the Rapa Nui people circa 1400 to 1650 AD. Police arrested a Chilean inhabitant whose truck apparently caused "incalculable" damage to the head. Since 2012, the Polynesian island's population has increased from 8,000 to 12,000 and tourism has skyrocketed. From The Guardian:

Camilo Rapu, the president of the Ma’u Henua community, which looks after the moai, said the crash may have been deliberate.

“As people know, the moai are sacred structures that possess a religious value for the people of Rapa Nui,” he said. “Something like this isn’t just dreadful, it’s an offence against a living culture that has spent the last few years fighting to regain its historic and archaeological heritage.”

The island’s mayor, Pedro Edmunds Paoa, told El Mercurio the collision appeared to have been the result of brake failure. He said the incident demonstrated the need for stricter traffic controls.

He previously told the paper: “Everyone decided against establishing traffic rules when it came to vehicles on sacred sites – but we, as a council, were talking about the dangers and knew very well what the rise in tourist and resident numbers could mean.”

image credit: Ian Sewell (CC BY 2.5) Read the rest

For 13 years, this photographer has been building an incredible 3D digital model of Athens

Starting in 2007, photographer and visual effects artist Dimitris Tsalkanis has been building a digital 3D model of ancient Athens. The result is an immersive historical recreation where everyone online is invited. How did Tsalkanis handle this Herculean (rather, Heraklean) task? He learned as he went. From Sarah Rose Sharp's article about Ancient Athens 3D in Hyperallergic:

“I had no previous experience on 3D and I started experimenting in my spare time,” said Tsalkanis in an email interview with Hyperallergic. “I always liked archaeology and since I am from Athens, I was always interested in its monuments and history. During my research, I realised that up until then no one had attempted a complete 3D reconstruction of ancient Athens..."

Tsalkanis stays up to date with his fantasy city, updating reconstructions constantly for better quality of models and better archaeological and historical accuracy...

Visitors to the site can browse reconstructions that date back as early as 1200 BCE, the Mycenaean period — or Bronze Age — through Classical Athens, featuring the rebuilds made necessary by the Greco-Persian War, and ages of occupation by Romans and Ottomans.

"Explore Ancient Athens Online Through 3D Models, Created by One Animator Over 12 Years" (Hyperallergic, thanks Mark Dery!)

Images below: "Aerial view of the Library of Hadrian" and "Panoramic view of the Acropolis," Dimitris Tsalkanis/Ancient Athens 3D

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The ancient world's greatest board games

Ludus Latrunculorum. Senet. Chaturanga. And don't forget Hnefatafl. These were just some of the board games that ancient people were into thousands of years ago. Over at Smithsonian, Meilan Solly explains "The Best Board Games of the Ancient World." From the magazine:

The rules of Mehen remain unclear, as the game faded from popularity following the decline of Egypt’s Old Kingdom and is sparsely represented in the archaeological record.

Writing in 1990, Egyptologist Peter A. Piccione explained, “Based upon what we know of this game ... the feline game pieces moved in a spiral along the squares, apparently, from the tail on the outside to the head of the serpent at the center.” The spherical, marble-like tokens may have been similarly rolled through the “longer spiralling grooves.”

In Patolli, a gambling game invented by the early inhabitants of Mesoamerica, players raced to move pebbles from one end of a cross-shaped track to the other. Drilled beans used as dice dictated gameplay, but the exact rules of “entry and movement” remain unknown, as Parlett notes in the Oxford History of Board Games.

Among the Aztecs, Patolli held unusually high stakes, with participants wagering not just physical goods or currency, but their own lives. As Diego Durán, a Dominican friar who authored a 16th-century tome on Aztec history and culture, explained, “At this and other games the Indians not only would gamble themselves into slavery, but even came to be legally put to death as human sacrifices.”

Images from top down: "Senet from the Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund; "Mehen" by Anagoria (CC BY 3.0); "Patoli" from the Book of the Gods and Rites and the Ancient Calender by Friar Diego Durán (Public Domain) Read the rest

Tourists deported for crapping in Macchu Picchu and damaging the stonework

Peruvian police are deporting five tourists from Chile, Brazil, France and Argentina for allegedly sneaking into the Macchu Picchu citadel, defacating among the Incan ruins and breaking the stonework inside the Temple of the Sun. Read the rest

The secrets within a 2,600-year-old preserved brain of a decapitated man

Back around 500 BCE or so in what is now York, U.K, a gentleman was decapitated for who-knows-why and his head quickly buried. To the amazement of the archaeologists who dug up the skull in 2008, the cranium still contained a well-preserved brain. According to University of London neurologist Axel Petzold and his colleagues, understanding how the tissue has survived for more than 2,500 years may lead to new methods for extracting valuable information from ancient tissue. From Science:

Using several molecular techniques to examine the remaining tissue, the researchers figured out that two structural proteins—which act as the “skeletons” of neurons and astrocytes—were more tightly packed in the ancient brain. In a yearlong experiment, they found that these aggregated proteins were also more stable than those in modern-day brains. In fact, the ancient protein clumps may have helped preserve the structure of the soft tissue for ages..

The research also could provide insight into protein-based neurological diseases like Alzheimer's and dementia.

"Protein aggregate formation permits millennium-old brain preservation" (Journal of the Royal Society Interface) Read the rest

Archaeologists in Egypt discovered one of the first illustrated books in history

Archaeologists have found the remnants of a 4,000-year-old "book" in a burial shaft in Dayr al-Barsha, Egypt. The oldest known copy of The Book of Two Ways, the story is related to Osiris, the Egyptian lord of the underworld. From The Brussels Times:

(Katholieke Universiteit Leuven archaeologist) Harco Willems describes the document as a collection of sparse incantations and legendary drawings...

Two curved sinuous lines run through the book. They are interpreted by some researchers as a representation of the two roads that lead the deceased to safety through the dangers of the underworld to a happy life in the afterlife.

Archaeologists found the fragments in a sarcophagus attributed to Ankh, a woman of the family of a governor named Ahanakht.

As The Daily Grail half-joked, "Don’t. Read. The. Incantations. Aloud!"

More: "Harco Willems discovered oldest copy of The Book of Two Ways" (KU Leuven)

image: color manipulated photo of a fragment of the text Read the rest

At least ten unexploded bombs are hidden in the ruins of Pompeii

At least ten unexploded bombs are hidden somewhere deep in the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. They are leftovers from a 1943 allied air force raid that dropped 165 bombs in the area. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Pompeii attracts more than 2.5 million visitors annually. From The Guardian:

“Ninety-six bombs were located and deactivated,” the Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano reported. “The other bombs ended up in an area of the site that has not yet been excavated. Many of them were defused or had already exploded. But at least 10 of those explosives are still there.”

Of the 66 hectares (163 acres) of the archaeological area, only 44 have been excavated. At least 10 unexploded bombs are yet to be found in the 22 remaining hectares, according to the investigation.

The Archaeological Museum of Pompeii said: “There is no risk for visitors. The site has regularly drawn up the reclamation project, which is carried out by the military. Area reclamation was carried out per metre.”

But Il Fatto said there was no sign of official documents for the location of at least 10 bombs...

According to statistics from the Italian defence ministry, thousands of second world war bombs are defused in the country every year.

image: Mark Vuaran (CC) Read the rest

At a Chinese cemetery, scientists discover some of the oldest evidence of pot smoking

More than 2,500 years ago in western China, people in mourning gathered at a cemetery for a ritual that involved getting high from cannabis plants burning in wooden pots. It's likely that they were trying to communicate with spirits. From Science News:

Evidence of this practice comes from Jirzankal Cemetery in Central Asia’s Pamir Mountains, says a team led by archaeologist Yimin Yang of the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. Chemical residues on wooden burners unearthed in tombs there provide some of the oldest evidence to date of smoking or inhaling cannabis fumes, the researchers report online June 12 in Science Advances....

East Asians grew cannabis starting at least 6,000 years ago, but only to consume the plants’ oily seeds and make clothing and rope out of cannabis fibers. Early cultivated cannabis varieties in East Asia and elsewhere, like most wild forms of the plant, contained low levels of THC and other mind-altering compounds.

Yang’s team identified a chemical signature of cannabis on charred plant material from 10 wooden burners, or braziers, found in eight Jirzankal tombs. Chemical signs of an unusually high level of THC were found inside nine braziers and on two stones that had been heated and used to burn plants in the braziers.

image: Xinhua Wu Read the rest

Drug paraphernalia that's 1,000-years-old still contains traces of coke and DMT

In a Bolivian rock shelter likely used 1,000 years ago for religious rituals, archaeologists found a collection of drug paraphernalia that still contains traces of psychoactive plants. A pouch made from three fox snouts likely contained a stash of leaves and seeds. From New Scientist:
(The items) include a 28-centimetre-long leather bag, a pair of wooden snuffing tablets, a snuffing tube, a pair of llama-bone spatulas, a textile headband, fragments of dried plant stems and a pouch made from three fox snouts stitched together. The snuffing tube and tablets feature ornate carvings of human-like figures.

Melanie Miller at the University of Otago, New Zealand, and her colleagues used mass spectrometry to analyse samples from the pouch and plant stems. They detected five psychoactive compounds: cocaine, benzoylecgonine (BZE), bufotenine, harmine and dimethyltryptamine (DMT).

The presence of these drugs suggests the pouch may have belonged to a ritual specialist or shaman with extensive knowledge of plants and their psychoactive properties, and used to hold leaves, seeds and other plant matter.

More in the scientific paper: "Chemical evidence for the use of multiple psychotropic plants in a 1,000-year-old ritual bundle from South America" (PNAS)

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Prehistoric poop reveals person ate entire venomous snake, including a fang

An archaeologist analyzing a pile of prehistoric human poop found the remains of an entire viper, including a fang. Researcher Elanor Sonderman was studying the indigenous people who, 1500 years ago, used a cave in Texas's Lower Pecos canyonlands as a shelter and bathroom. One way archaeologists learn about a long-gone civilization's diet and health is to dig into their coprolites (preserved feces). According to Sonderman, the snake wasn't cooked, descaled, deboned, or apparently defanged before it was eaten. WTF? One theory is that the eater was tripping on peyote. From National Geographic:

Though Sonderman’s research team proposes that the snake was eaten for “a distinctly ceremonial or ritualistic purpose,” there’s no way to tell for sure. “I wouldn't want anyone to say ‘We have a snake worshipping culture where people consume snakes ritualistically,’” says Sonderman. “That’s not what we’re trying to say. It’s only one example.”

What the fang does suggest, she says, is that it wasn’t unheard of for people to eat venomous snakes—but, given its uniqueness, it could have been consumed on a special occasion. Or not. Maybe it was just a dare—or a very dangerous dietary preference.

"1,500 years ago, someone ate a venomous snake whole. Why?" (National Geographic)

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This is the reconstructed face of a pet dog that lived 4,500 years ago

Archaeologists uncovered the skeleton of this neolithic dog more than a century ago in a 5,000 year old tomb on on the island of Mainland, Orkney, Scotland. Now, forensic scientists and artists have reconstructed the animal's face. According to Historic Environment Scotland researcher Steve Farrar, this dog and 23 others found in the "Cuween Hill (tomb) suggest that dogs had a particularly special significance for the farmers... Maybe dogs were their symbol or totem, perhaps they thought of themselves as the 'dog people.'" From The Scotsman:

As HES observes, the fact that the Orkney residents placed canine remains alongside those of humans could also speak to their belief in an afterlife for both parties.

The latest work was originally created in clay using traditional methods, with a 3D print of the Cuween Hill skull as the base to build the anatomy on to.

It was then cast in silicone and finished with the fur coat resembling a European grey wolf, as advised by experts...

(Forensic artist Amy) Thornton, who trained in facial reconstruction methods at the University of Dundee, said: “This reconstruction has been a particularly interesting project to be involved in, as it marks the first time I’ve employed forensic methods that would usually be used for a human facial reconstruction and applied these to an animal skull.

“This brought its own set of challenges, as there is much less existing data relating to average tissue depths in canine skulls compared to humans.”

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Water pipe dig in England unearths site of human sacrifices

Engineers digging to lay water pipes in Oxfordshire, England turned up more than two dozen 3,000-year-old human skeletons, some of which were likely killed in sacrifices. From CNN:

The remains of 26 people from the Iron Age and Roman periods were found, including a woman with her feet cut off and her arms bound behind her head, and another person with their skull placed by their feet...

Archaeologists inspecting the remains believe the people found were from the same community involved in creating the Uffington White Horse, a prehistoric chalk sculpture on a nearby hill...

The findings "provided a glimpse into the beliefs and superstitions of people living in Oxfordshire before the Roman conquest," said Neil Holbrook, chief executive of Cotswold Archaeology. "Evidence elsewhere suggests that burials in pits might have involved human sacrifice."

Read the rest

Archaeological evidence for the Iron Age practice of embalming your enemies' severed heads with resin and displaying them

Ancient Roman texts and sculptures describe a Celtic practice of severing your defeated enemies' heads, embalming them with resin and plant oils, and displaying them as war trophies: now, archaeologists have unearthed evidence of the practice at Le Cailar, the 2,500 year old walled city near the Rhone. Read the rest

Ancient Scottish stone circle turns out to have been built in 1990s

Aberdeenshire Council said that a stone circle thought to be of ancient vintage was in fact built in the 1990s.

Neil Ackerman, Historic Environment Record Assistant at Aberdeenshire Council, said: “It is obviously disappointing to learn of this development, but it also adds an interesting element to its story.

“That it so closely copies a regional monument type shows the local knowledge, appreciation and engagement with the archaeology of the region by the local community.

“I hope the stones continue to be used and enjoyed – while not ancient it is still in a fantastic location and makes for a great feature in the landscape.

“These types of monument are notoriously difficult to date. For this reason we include any modern replicas of ancient monuments in our records in case they are later misidentified.

Sounds like a great place for events that would not normally be acceptable at a neolithic monument. Read the rest

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