Saturday, September 30, 2017

Earthquake Faults May Have Shaken up the Cultural Practices of Ancient Greece

Ancient Origins

The Ancient Greeks may have built sacred or treasured sites deliberately on land previously affected by earthquake activity, according to a new study by the University of Plymouth.

 Professor of Geoscience Communication Iain Stewart MBE, Director of the University's Sustainable Earth Institute, has presented several BBC documentaries about the power of earthquakes in shaping landscapes and communities.

Now he believes fault lines created by seismic activity in the Aegean region may have caused areas to be afforded special cultural status and, as such, led to them becoming sites of much celebrated temples and great cities.

 Scientists have previously suggested Delphi, a mountainside complex once home to a legendary oracle, gained its position in Classical Greek society largely as a result of a sacred spring and intoxicating gases which emanated from a fault line caused by an earthquake.

Reconstruction of the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi in an 1894 painting by Albert Tournaire, now at École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts. (Public Domain)

But Professor Stewart believes Delphi may not be alone in this regard, and that other cities including Mycenae, Ephesus, Cnidus and Hierapolis may have been constructed specifically because of the presence of fault lines.

 Professor Stewart said: "Earthquake faulting is endemic to the Aegean world, and for more than 30 years, I have been fascinated by the role earthquakes played in shaping its landscape. But I have always thought it more than a coincidence that many important sites are located directly on top of fault lines created by seismic activity. The Ancient Greeks placed great value on hot springs unlocked by earthquakes, but perhaps the building of temples and cities close to these sites was more systematic than has previously been thought."

Thermopylae derives half of its name from its hot springs. This river is formed by the steaming water which smells of sulfur. In the background, you can see buildings of the modern baths. In ancient times, the springs created a swamp. (CC BY SA 3.0)

 In the study, published in Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, Professor Stewart says a correspondence of active faults and ancient cities in parts of Greece and western Turkey might not seem unduly surprising given the Aegean region is riddled with seismic faults and littered with ruined settlements.

But, he adds, many seismic fault traces in the region do not simply disrupt the fabric of buildings and streets, but run straight through the heart of the ancient settlements' most sacred structures.

Street scene at the archaeological excavations at Ephesus, an ancient Greek city on the west coast of Anatolia, near present-day Selçuk, Izmir Province, Turkey. (Ad Meskens/CC BY SA 3.0)

There are prominent examples to support the theory, such as in Delphi itself where a sanctuary was destroyed by an earthquake in 373 BC only for its temple to be rebuilt directly on the same fault line.

There are also many tales of individuals who attained oracular status by descending into the underworld, with some commentators arguing that such cave systems or grottoes caused by seismic activity may have formed the backdrop for these stories.

Heinrich Leutemann's The Oracle of Delphi Entranced. (Public Domain)

Professor Stewart concludes: "I am not saying that every sacred site in ancient Greece was built on a fault line. But while our association with earthquakes nowadays is that they are all negative, we have always known that in the long run they give more than they take away. The ancient Greeks were incredibly intelligent people and I believe they would have recognised this significance and wanted their citizens to benefit from the properties they created."

Top Image: Priestess of Delphi (1891) by John Collier. (Public Domain) Drawing of the Tholos of Delphi, Greece. (Public Domain)

The article, originally titled ‘Earthquake faults may have played key role in shaping the culture of ancient Greece’ was originally published on Science Daily.

Source: University of Plymouth. "Earthquake faults may have played key role in shaping the culture of ancient Greece." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 September 2017.

Reference: Iain S. Stewart. Seismic faults and sacred sanctuaries in Aegean antiquity. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.pgeola.2017.07.009

Friday, September 29, 2017

Rare Tomb Shows Bronze Age Mycenaean-era Nobleman had a Fondness for Jewelry

Ancient Origins

After 3,350 years, a Mycenaean-era nobleman’s tomb has been re-entered and his favored possessions have been seen by modern eyes. Archaeologists consider his burial an odd one, with grave goods and the style of the tomb standing out against others from his time.

 The tomb was discovered during excavations near Orchomenos, Boeotia, Greece. It was unearthed during the first year of a five-year joint program between the Ephorate of Antiquities of Boeotia/Ministry of Culture and Sports and the British School at Athens/University of Cambridge. According to Euronews, the tomb is “the ninth largest of its kind to be discovered out of around 4,000 excavated in Greece over the last 150 years.”

Recording the bones in the burial chamber’s interior. (Greek Culture Ministry)

 The tomb has a 20 meter (65.5 ft.) long rock-cut dromos (passageway) with rock cut benches covered in clay mortar. This hall leads to the 42 sq. meter (452 sq. ft.) burial chamber. It is believed the height to the pitched roof originally measured 3.5 meters ( 11.5 ft.) However, it has been proposed that the roof had already begun to fall apart in antiquity; which slightly moved the burial but also served as some protection for its contents from looters.

View of the Mycenaean-era tomb’s façade and the dry-stone masonry that sealed the entrance. (Ministry of Culture and Sports)

Upon entering the burial chamber, archaeologists found the remains of a man aged around 40-50 years old. Various grave goods were placed alongside his body: ten pottery vessels sheathed in tin, a pair of bronze snaffle-bits (a bit mouthpiece with a ring on either side used on a horse), and bow fittings and arrowheads. The most intriguing of the finds however is the collection of jewelry made of different materials, combs, a seal stone, and a signet ring. Unfortunately, images of the jewelry found in the tomb have yet to be released. Nonetheless, this provides a unique element to the burial, as jewelry was commonly believed to only have been placed in female burials in that period.

Bronze bits found in the Mycenaean-era tomb. (Giannis Galanakis)

The style of burial is also considered rare for Mycenaean chamber tombs. It’s far more common for archaeologists to find chamber tombs from this period which were used for multiple burials and contain grave goods, oftentimes looted or broken, from different generations.

A final factor which sets this burial apart is the lack of decorated Mycenaean pottery in the tomb. Only two small stirrup jars were found, yet this pottery style was popular at that time. With so many different elements to consider, researchers expect this discovery to greatly improve their understanding of the variety of funeral practices used in this region during the Mycenaean period.

One of the two decorated stirrup jars found in the Mycenaean-era tomb. (Giannis Galanakis)

The Mycenaean era was the last phase of the Bronze Age in Ancient Greece and is remembered for its palatial city-states, artwork, and writing. This period collapsed at the end of the Bronze Age, possibly due to the mysterious ‘people of the sea’ (or Sea People), Dorian invasion, or natural disasters and climate change – or some combination of these. Ancient Origins has previously reported about the impact the Mycenaean era had on ancient Greek literature and tomb building:

 “Homer writes that the Mycenaean era was dedicated to Agamemnon, the king who led the Greeks in the Trojan War. The Mycenaean’s were keen traders, establishing contacts with countries across the Mediterranean and Europe. They were also excellent engineers and are also known for their characteristic ‘beehive’ tombs which were circular in shape with a high roof, consisting of a single stone passage leading to a chamber in which the possessions of the tomb’s occupant were also laid to rest.”

Gold death-mask known as the “Mask of Agamemnon.” (Xuan Che/CC BY 2.0) Homer writes that the Mycenaean era was dedicated to Agamemnon.

The tomb’s excavators believe that the recently unearthed site can be linked to the palatial center of Mycenaean Orchomenos – “the most important Mycenaean center of northern Boeotia during the 14th and 13th centuries BC.” They also call the site “one of the best documented burial groups of the Palatial period in mainland Greece.”

 In 2015, Ancient Origins reported on another impressive Mycenaean-era discovery in Orchomenos. A pre-classical era Greek palace was found on Aghios Vassilios hill. Some researchers believe that this is the long-lost palace of Sparta.

The palace, which had 10 rooms, was probably built around the 17th to 16th centuries BC. Inscriptions written in Linear B script have also been found around that excavation site. They relate to religious practices and names and places. Archaeologists also discovered objects used for religious ceremonies, clay figurines, a cup adorned with a bull’s head, swords, and fragments of murals. Evidence suggests the palace was probably destroyed by fire at some point in the late 14th or early 13th century.

Mycenean Palace foundations at Orchomenus. (CC BY SA 4.0)

Top Image: Detail of the Mycenaean-era tomb’s façade and the dry-stone masonry that sealed the entrance. Source: Ministry of Culture and Sports

By Alicia McDermott

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Two Roman Cavalry Swords and Two Toy Swords Amongst Treasures Found at Frontier Fort

Ancient Origins

Evidence of both work and play have been found at a Roman fort near Hadrian’s Wall in the UK. Two Roman swords as well as two wooden toy swords have been found in ongoing investigations which are uncovering a barracks area. Lead archaeologist, Dr Andrew Birley, said the finds were like "winning the lottery" reported the BBC.

Historical Vindolanda
The finds have been made in the last few weeks in a barracks area at the Vindolanda Roman fort archaeological dig in Northumberland, England. The fort has been a rich source of historical Roman artifacts for many years and remarkable past finds have included a huge hoard of shoes and two caches of Roman letters. The fort was abandoned when the Romans retreated from Britain around the 4th century AD and what has been found to have been left behind provides unique insight into the daily life led by the Roman soldiers and their families that occupied the fort.

 The First Sword
The first of the full-size metal swords to be found was unearthed by a delighted volunteer, Rupert Bainbridge, who was digging in the corner of one of the living spaces that had been excavated, reported Past Horizons. The sword was slowly extracted, with first the tip of the sword’s blade being revealed and then the wooden scabbard becoming obvious. Once uncovered completely, it was found to be a complete full-length iron sword with a damaged, bent point. It is likely this damage led to the sword being discarded.

The first sword to be found had a bent end (Image: The Vindolanda Trust)

 It might be thought that finding swords at a fort where a garrison of hundreds of soldiers lived would not be so uncommon. But swords were valuable possessions and not readily left. The rarity of such a find is clearly portrayed by the words reported by experienced Dr Birley who has been researching at Vindolanda for many years.

“You can work as an archaeologist your entire life on Roman military sites and, even at Vindolanda, we never expect or imagine to see such a rare and special object as this. It felt like the team had won a form of an archaeological lottery.”

Sword Number Two
After the first find the dig continued with fresh volunteers and was spurred on by Birley’s inexhaustible enthusiasm. Within just a few weeks another sword was discovered in the room adjacent to the first. This one was without the accompaniment of wooden handle, pommel or scabbard but the blade and tang was in excellent shape.

Sword Two with complete well-preserved blade (Image: The Vindolanda Trust)

Well, you can imagine the reaction of the animated Dr Birley who seemed genuinely astounded by the finds. He commented as reported by Past Horizons:

 “You don’t expect to have this kind of experience twice in one month so this was both a delightful moment and a historical puzzle. You can imagine the circumstances where you could conceive leaving one sword behind rare as it is…. but two?”

 Both swords found were for cavalry use – thin and short with a sharp blade for slashing from horseback.

Evacuation of a Complete Community
One of the most remarkable characteristics of Vindolanda is that it gives evidence of the life of a whole community, not just the soldiers. A good example of this comes with the find of two toy wooden swords. They serve to remind us that this place was inhabited by whole families including the soldier’s off-spring. This complex wasn’t only soldiers living, waiting, training and fighting rebels – there were children playing amongst them too.

One of the ancient toy wooden swords, with a gemstone in its pommel (The Vindolanda Trust)

The two wooden toy swords were found in another room and are said to be pretty similar to toy swords on sale at souvenir shops near Hadrian’s Wall today. Other everyday items that have been found recently include ink writing tablets on wood, bath clogs, leather shoes (from men, women and children), stylus pens, knives, combs, hairpins, brooches and pottery. The letters are particularly telling of the daily life, as has been reported in a previous Ancient Origins article on the finds. As would be expected of a fort that was quickly abandoned, a wide assortment of other weapons including cavalry lances, arrowheads and ballista bolts were left on the barrack room floors.

The rare conditions of oxygen free soil have allowed a lot of wooden items to be preserved where they would have disappeared due to decay in other areas. Some impressive shiny finds are the copper-alloy cavalry and horse fitments for saddles, junction straps and harnesses which were also left behind. These remain in such fine condition that they still shine like gold and are almost completely free from corrosion.

Cavalry Junction strap after conservation. (Image: The Vindolanda Trust)

Why was this Vindolanda Barracks Abandoned?
Although Vindolanda fort was occupied until the 9th century after which it was left for good, the Roman garrisons were long gone centuries before. In fact, these artifacts survived so well because they were hidden by a layer of concrete that was laid by the Romans about 30 years after these barracks had been abandoned reports the Guardian. It seems the Roman presence here to some extent ebbed and flowed. Successive garrisons have built on top of their predecessors at the site. From the sheer amount of possessions that have been found to have been left behind at this level of excavations it is obvious that the inhabitants had a distinct lack of time to pack their bags. But what would make a garrison of the mighty Roman Empire turn tale and flee?

The words of Dr Birley as reported by the Guardian might give us a clue.

“The swords are the icing on the cake for what is a truly remarkable discovery of one of the most comprehensive and important collections from the intimate lives of people living on the edge of the Roman Empire at a time of rebellion and war.”

This fort was right at the far frontier of the Roman Empire and the battle against the British rebels had already been long and hard by the time these barracks were constructed in around 105 AD. It seems possible from the repeated abandonment that the Romans suffered several defeats here and the outpost forces had to be replenished several times. The rebels on this frontier were so troublesome that about a century later, after his visit in 122 AD, the Emperor Hadrian decreed that the best way to deal with the situation was to build a wall that probably either aimed to keep the rebels out or at least to control immigration and smuggling.

Whatever the causes of abandonment, the result archaeologically is that at the deepest levels of the excavation are being found some of the best-preserved and most exciting artifacts.

Top image: Samian ware pottery that was found at the site at the end of last month (The Vindolanda Trust)

 By Gary Manners

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Rich Pickings in Luxor As Two Family Tombs are Found Including that of a Royal Goldsmith

Ancient Origins

In ongoing explorations of a necropolis at Luxor, archaeologists have opened a new tomb and the findings have been rich. Amongst the 3,500-year-old treasures are jewels, sarcophagi, pottery and four mummies, known to be the remains of a goldsmith and his family.

 Multiple Finds
This is the latest in a series of interesting tombs that archaeologists have unearthed in Egypt in the last few months. It is the tomb of Amenemhat, a prominent goldsmith from the 18th Dynasty, New Kingdom period (1550 BC to 1292 BC). It has been found on the West Bank of the Nile at Luxor, in the Draa Abul Naga necropolis, an area which is known to contain the burials of many prominent noblemen and top officials, reports the Telegraph. According to Dr. Mostafa Waziri, Director General of Luxor, who is leading the dig, the tomb’s entrance is located in the courtyard of a Middle Kingdom tomb. Found in the same exploration was another burial shaft containing the mummies of a woman and two children, revealed the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities in an announcement on Saturday, reports the Telegraph.

A researcher studies a hoard of remains found at the necropolis (Ministry of Antiquities)

 Amenemhat’s Complex
The Ministry claims the tomb is of ‘Amen’s Goldsmith’, as it seems that Amenemhat dedicated his work to the most revered deity of the time, Amen. Antiquities Minister Khaled el-Anani told reporters that the tomb is not in the best condition, reports stthomastimesjournal but as infiltrators of the burial place enter, they are immediately confronted by a slightly damaged sandstone statue of both the goldsmith and his wife, Amenhotep seated next to each other, overlooking their final resting sanctuary beyond. At the feet of the couple, the image of one of their sons is carved as a relief.

The daughter, or as they used to refer (to daughters) 'the precious,' is usually the one pictured in this place. If the family have no daughters, they would take their daughter-in-law. It is unusual to see the son," said Waziri reported CNN.

Moving past this point, Waziri explained you find two burial shafts. The one to the right is 7 meters (23 ft) in length and was probably to house the goldsmith and his wife. In it were found several mummies, sarcophagi, funerary masks, together with several other statues of the couple.

In the shaft to the left, the evidence was quite clear that the tomb had been reused at a later date, as in this second chamber there were sarcophagi from the 21st and 22nd Dynasties or the Third Intermediate Period (1070BC to 664BC) reported the Guardian.

One of several statue representations of Amenemhat, the goldsmith, and his wife Amenhoteb (Ministry of Antiquities)

 Another Family Resting Place
Along another burial shaft that was found close-by this tomb were found the mummies of a woman and two children. According to the ministry bone specialist, Sherine Ahmed Shawqi, the woman looks to have died at the age of 50 and showed signs that she had a bacterial bone disease, said the Telegraph. In this instance, the bodies were in two separate coffins with the children sharing one and the mother in the other according to the Ministry of Antiquities.

The lady seemed to have endured an uncomfortable end. “This woman probably cried extensively as the size of her carbuncles are abnormally enlarged,” postulated Shawqi.

The two other bodies, presumed her children, seem to be of two males aged between 20 and 30. It is thought that these would have been added to the burial place at later dates to the parent.

An Egyptian archaeologist looks at a newly-uncovered sarcophagus in the Draa Abul Naga necropolis (Ministry of Antiquities)

More to Come
Other items exposed during the excavation included a cache of 50 funerary cones. Of these cones, 40 are believed to belong to other officials from the time, whose remains have yet to be found. “This is a good sign,” said the leader of the excavation, Mostafa al-Waziry, as reported by the Guardian, “It means if we keep digging in this area, we are going to find more tombs.”

Although this find is not of a very high-profile personage from the past on the level of a pharaoh, the discovery is seen to be important by the Antiquity Ministry as it was found by Egyptian archaeologists working independently of the international research community.

“We used to escort foreign archaeologists as observers, but that’s now in the past. We are the leaders now,” said Mustafa Waziri, the ministry’s chief archaeologist in Luxor.

The continuation of archaeological investigations in Egypt are of high importance and these new finds add to the momentum. Egyptian minister of antiquities, Khaled Alnani, called it “an important scientific discovery” and went on to call 2017, “a year or archaeological discoveries.”

And he is not exaggerating. To mention just a few examples of finds, Ancient Origins reported on a huge tomb find in April, containing mummies and thousands of artifacts that belonged to a city advisor. In March, an 8 meter (26 ft) statue of Psamtek I was unearthed. Last month, a Roman-era tomb was uncovered near the Upper Egyptian town of Minya.

These recent finds have come after a quiet time for archaeology in Egypt since the disruption of the Arab Spring protests in 2011 and subsequent terrorist actions. According to the Guardian, such a loss of tourist revenue has severely reduced the capacity for of the Antiquities Ministry to maintain the ancient monuments. It is hoped that tourism, which is currently at a third of previous levels, will be encouraged by the recent flurry of finds.

Top image: Mummies of a woman and two children found in burial chamber at Draa Abul Naga, Luxor (Ministry of Antiquities)

By Gary Manners

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Hunters Find Striking Viking Sword Isolated at High Altitude in Norway

Ancient Origins

Four friends were slowly making their way across the high altitude rocky terrain while hunting reindeer in Oppland, Norway. One noticed a rusty object sticking out of the rocks. Curiosity took over and he sped up to reach the spot, where he soon found himself in front of an impressive-looking sword. After releasing the sword from its rocky hold, the friends decided that it didn’t look like anything modern, so they headed back down the mountain with their treasure to consult a local archaeologist.

Detail of the Viking Age sword found in Oppland, Norway. Source: Secrets of the Ice

That archaeologist, and also another in Dagbladet, confirmed that the sword wasn’t made recently. In fact, archaeologist Espen Finstad told Dagbladet news that the sword was a Viking Age relic created in the 900s AD.

Finstad is also the chief editor of Secrets of the Ice, a group of glacier archaeologists working in the same region where the Viking Age sword was found. Realizing the importance to return quickly to the site, the Secrets of the Ice team spoke with the Museum of Cultural History and the National Park authorities.

 Einar Åmbakk, who discovered the sword, one of his hunting trip friends, a local metal detectorist, a local archaeologist, and two members of the Secrets of the Ice team got themselves ready for a brisk three hour walk back up the mountain to reach the location where the sword was found.

Einar Åmbakk holding the sword, just moments after it was discovered. (Einar Åmbakk)

In their report on the Viking Age sword, Secrets of the Ice described the context in which the sword was found:

“The find spot is in a scree-covered area with traces of permafrost movement, situated at 1640 m [5380 ft.] above sea level. Einar Åmbakk told us that the sword was lying with the hilt down between the stones and half of the blade sticking out. He had seen the blade and pulled it out. Only then did he understand that he had found a sword.”

They go on to write that the sword was probably found in its original position, or had perhaps slid between the stones; it’s unlikely that permafrost movement of the stones had pushed it to the surface.

Secrets of the Ice wrote, “The preservation is probably due to a combination of the quality of the iron, the high altitude and the mostly cold conditions. For most of the year, the find spot would have been frozen over and covered in snow.”

The Viking sword, dated to c. AD 850-950. (Espen Finstad, Secrets of the Ice/ Oppland County Council)

The group surveyed and used a metal detector to cover an area of 20 meters (65 ft.) around the sword’s discovery location. No indications of human remains, the sword grip cover of bone, wood or leather (which would have not been preserved in those conditions anyway), nor any other artifacts were found. Thus, there is a mysterious air about the sword and how it came to be left in such a desolate location.

Secrets of the Ice suggest a possible, though still curious, explanation:

“This could suggest that the person who left behind the sword was lost, maybe in a snow blizzard. It seems likely that the sword belonged to a Viking who died on the mountain, perhaps from exposure. However, if that is indeed the case, was he traveling in the high mountains with only his sword? It is a bit of a mystery… As it is now, his remains are long gone, and only the sword bears witness to the drama that happened here more than one thousand years ago.”

‘Viking Across the Land of the Dead Giants.’ (Jean-Michel Trauscht)

The Viking sword is certainly an intriguing find, but it is not the only example of well-preserved artifacts being found at high altitude in that area. Almost one year ago, in October 2016, Ancients Origins reported on another discovery made by the Secrets of the Ice team - a number of arrowheads found in the melting glacier on the mountain Kvitingskjølen in southern Norway’s Jotunheimen range.

 Some of the arrowheads have been dated to between 900-1050 AD based on the types of arrows and techniques used in their creation. However, additional evidence suggests other points may be much older. As Espen Finstad said, “The oldest finds here are around 6000 years old. Which means that there’s been hunting here for at least that long.”

So far, the Secrets of the Ice project website says that 49 glaciers and ice patches in Oppland have revealed artifacts. Hunting tools, transport equipment, textiles, leather and clothing have all been recovered by the archaeologists. Moreover, zoological material has also been found in the form of antler, bone, and dung.

Although the receding glaciers may seem to make the discovery of the arrows and other lost or discarded artifacts easier, the lack of an ice covering also presents a problem - without the protection of the ice, artifacts are exposed to the elements. The race against time and the weather means that the glacier archaeologists must try to work quickly but thoroughly to save as much as they can.

Top Image: The Viking Age sword found in Oppland, Norway. (Source: Youtube Screenshot)

 By Alicia McDermott

Monday, September 25, 2017

First Genetic Proof of a Viking Age Warrior Woman is Identified from an Iconic Swedish Grave

Ancient Origins

Then the high-born lady saw them play the wounding game, she resolved on a hard course and flung off her cloak; she took a naked sword and fought for her kinsmen's lives, she was handy at fighting, wherever she aimed her blows.” - ‘The Greenlandic Poem of Atli’ (st. 49) (Larrington, 1996)

Arguably the most iconic example of a warrior burial in Viking Age Sweden is a mid-10th century grave in Birka. This grave has been the example of what a Viking warrior burial should look like for over a century. Everyone assumed that a man was the one laid to rest in the grave – but new research shows assumptions should not be taken as fact. It is the remains of a warrior woman in that grave.

Illustration by Evald Hansen based on the original plan of the Viking Age warrior grave (Bj 581) by excavator Hjalmar Stolpe; published in 1889. (Stolpe, 1889)

According to The Local, the first person to do something about the fact that the skeleton’s morphological features don’t coincide with a male body was Anna Kjellström, an osteologist at Stockholm University. Kjellström was examining the skeleton for an unrelated research project when she noticed that the cheekbones were finer and thinner than men would normally have. However, the tell-tale sign that the skeleton is female is the obvious nature of the hip bones.

 After a thorough osteological analysis, DNA testing was applied. And, as reports “DNA retrieved from the skeleton demonstrates that the individual carried two X chromosomes and no Y chromosome.” Based on the results of the study, Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson of Stockholm University, who led the research, asserted, “It’s actually a woman, somewhere over the age of 30 and fairly tall too, measuring around 170 centimetres [5.5ft.]”

Furthermore, the researchers write in their journal article that. “The Viking warrior female showed genetic affinity to present-day inhabitants of the British Islands (England and Scotland), the North Atlantic Islands (Iceland and the Orkneys), Scandinavia (Denmark and Norway) and to lesser extent Eastern Baltic Europe (Lithuania and Latvia).”

Romanticized depiction of a Viking woman, 1905, by Andreas Bloch. (Public Domain)

The researchers decided to confirm the nature of the woman’s travels by using a strontium isotope analysis on three molar teeth from the lower jaw. The results of this testing show that the woman was a nonlocal who had moved to Birka.

Professor Mattias Jakobsson at Uppsala University's Department of Organismal Biology highlighted the importance of this find when he said, “This is the first formal and genetic confirmation of a female Viking warrior.”

Artistic representation of a Viking Age warrior woman on a ship. (Women in History)

The belief that the woman found in Birka, Sweden was a warrior is largely based on the grave goods that were found alongside her body. Her weapons included a sword and armor-piercing arrows, an axe, a spear, a battle knife. There were also shields, two horses, and a war-planning gaming board with a full set of gaming pieces in the grave, which suggest the woman was a high-ranking Viking warrior. As Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson explained:

“The gaming set indicates that she was an officer, someone who worked with tactics and strategy and could lead troops in battle. What we have studied was not a Valkyrie from the sagas but a real life military leader, that happens to have been a woman.”

Reconstruction of what the grave may have looked like. (Uppsala University)

Although the gender stereotype for Viking Age warriors has almost exclusively described them as men, the idea of female warriors is not unknown in Norse society. For instance, Norse mythology discusses a group of figures known as Valkyries. Ancient Origins writer ‘Dwhty’ explained that the Valkyries were: “believed to be the handmaidens of Odin, the supreme god of the Norse pantheon. They were sent by this god to the battlefield to select warriors worthy of entering Valhalla after their deaths. The Valkyrie were portrayed as warriors, being equipped with helmets, mail-coats, and spears.”

‘Valkyrien’ by Peter Nicolai Arbo. (Public Domain)

Another example of female warriors in Norse society can be seen in the Battle of Bråvalla, a legendary battle from the 8th century AD. 300 female warriors known as shieldmaidens are said to have fought on the side of King Harald Wartooth in that battle.

This supports the conclusion by Neil Price, Professor at Uppsala University's Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, who said there is some written evidence supporting the idea of female warriors in the Viking Age, but it doesn’t detract from the importance of the discovery because “this is the first time that we've really found convincing archaeological evidence for their existence.”

Lagertha - a respected warrior and reigning queen of Denmark in the TV series ‘Vikings’. (CC BY SA)

Top Image: ‘Brynhildr.’ Used here as a representational image of a woman warrior in the Viking Age. Source: FLOWERZZXU/Deviant Art

By Alicia McDermott

Sunday, September 24, 2017

17th-century 'Great British Bake Off' recipes

History Extra

All images are © Wellcome Images

 Hannah Bisaker’s puff pastry, 1692

To make puff paist
 "Take halfe a quortorh of The Finest Flower then mix yo Flower and water
 and Four white of Eggs together, mould up yo paste but not too stiff,
Then role yo Past out into a Sheete. Then lay some Butter in litle Pecies
Till you have Filled yo sheete but doe not lay it Towards The ends to neare,
 Then Dust a little Flower with yo Drudging Box then Fould it up
Twice before you put any more Then doe soe Till yo have put in
a pound keeping it a little dusted very Fine yo put it to yo Butter,
handle it a little Then cut it to yo own

Fancie Lady Ann Fanshawe's icy cream, 1651-1707

To make Icy Cream
 Take three pints of the best cream, boyle it with
a blade of Mace, or else perfume it with orang flower water
 or Amber-Greece, sweeten the Cream, with sugar let it stand
till it is quite cold, then put it into Boxes, ether of Silver
 or tinn then take, Ice chopped into small peeces and
putt it into a tub and set the Boxes in the Ice couering
them all over, and let them stand in the Ice two
hours, and the Cream Will come to be Ice in the Boxes,
then turne them out into a salvar with some of the same
Seasoned Cream, so sarue it up at the Table.

 Lady Ann Fanshawe's sugar cakes, 1651-1707

To make Sugar Cakes
 Take 2 pound of Butter, one pound of fine Sugar, the yolkes of nine
Egs, a full Spoonfull of Mace beat & searsed [sifted], as much Flower as this
will well wett making them so stiffe as you may rowle it out, then
with the Cup of a glasse of what Size you please cutt
them into round Cakes; pricke them and bake them.

 Orange pudding c1685-c1725

To make Orange Pudding
 Take 2 Oranges pare them and cut them in little pieces,
then take 12 Ounces of fine Sugar, beat them in a stone morter,
put to them 12 Ounces of butter and 12 Yolkes of Eggs,
 and beat all these together, then make a very good paste,
and lay a sheet of paste upon a dish and so lay on your pudding,
and cover it with another sheet of paste,
 and set it in the oven, an hour will bake it

 How to Cook a Husband (c1710-1725)

How to Cook a Husband

 As Mr Glass said of the hare, you must first catch him. Having done so, the mode of cooking him, so as to make a good dish of him, is as follows. Many good husbands are spoiled in the cooking; some women go about it as if their husbands were bladders, and blow them up. Others keep them constantly in hot water, while others freeze them by conjugal coldness. Some smother them with hatred, contention and variance, and some keep them in pickle all their lives. These women always serve them up with tongue sauce. Now it cannot be supposed that husbands will be tender and good if managed in that way. But they are, on the contrary, very delicious when managed as follows: Get a large jar called the jar of carefulness, (which all good wives have on hand), place your husband in it, and set him near the fire of conjugal love; let the fire be pretty hot, but especially let it be clear - above all, let the heat be constant. Cover him over with affection, kindness and subjection. Garnish with modest, becoming familiarity, and the spice of pleasantry; and if you had kisses and other confectionaries let them be accompanied with a sufficient portion of secrecy, mixed with prudence and moderation. We would advise all good wives to try this receipt and realise how admirable a dish a husband is when properly cooked.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Researchers Look to Crowdfunding to Identify the Skull of Pompeii Hero Pliny the Elder

Ancient Origins

Gaius Plinius Secundus, better known as Pliny the Elder, was an influential administrator, officer, and author in ancient Rome. His life ended suddenly with the deadly eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. He had used his fleet of ships to rescue local citizens and carry them from Pompeii to safety. However, stories say Pliny the Elder himself did not make it out of the town alive. Pliny the Younger wrote on the horrifying eruption and asserted that his uncle was leading a group of survivors to safety when he was overtaken by a cloud of poisonous gas – he died on the beach during that rescue attempt.

Pliny the Younger told the Roman senator and historian Tacitus that he had witnessed the eruption from a distance.

Scene of destruction in the film “Pompeii 3d” (2014). (La Stampa/CC BY NC ND)

Fast forward to 1900, when Italian engineer Gennaro Matrone was excavating Pompeii and discovered the remains of 70+ people. One of the figures was found far from the others; it was graced in bracelets and rings and was wearing a large gold necklace. According to IBTImes UK, Matrone had a hunch that this was the figure of Pliny the Elder – his beliefs have never been confirmed.

Excavations of Pompeii by Gennaro Matrone in 1900. (La Stampa/CC BY NC ND)

Now, Haaretz reports that the skull of this figure from the beach is held in the collection of the Museum of the History of the Art of Medicine in Rome. It has been largely forgotten until historian Flavio Russo and Isolina Marota, an anthropologist at the University of Camerino who is best known for working on the remains of Ötzi the Iceman, decided that it could be worthwhile to check if the skull really belonged to Pliny the Elder.

 Marota told La Stampa “Considering the importance of the findings, our university has the utmost readiness to start a research project on it, perhaps in collaboration with specialized scholars and archaeologists and with the experts responsible for managing the Pompeii site.”

Some of the victims of Pompeii were sitting, some lying when the superhot gas cloud enveloped them. (Bigstock photo)

According to Haaretz, the team is trying to gain the necessary funds to complete the project through crowdfunding (they write that the “Italian cultural and scientific institutions are mired in budget troubles”). The researchers plan to use stable isotope analysis of the skull’s teeth, which was also used in the identification of Ötzi’s origins, and other methods to identify the origins of the skull. As Marota explained, “When we drink water or eat something, whether it's plants or animals, the minerals from the soil enter our body, and the soil has a different composition in every place.” Matching the isotopes with the tooth enamel to those found in soil samples can help the researchers pinpoint the skull’s homeland.

Researchers want to know for certain if this is the skull of Pliny the Elder. (Flavio Russo)

A second method Marota says the team can use is to compare the shape of the head and jaw to busts of Pliny the Elder from his time period.

A previous Ancient Origins article tells us that Pliny the Elder was born in Como, Italy in 23 or 24 AD into a powerful and elite equestrian family (akin to knights). He traveled to Rome in 35 AD and learned the art of rhetoric and public speaking. Throughout the rest of his life (while on the road, and in between careers) Pliny worked tirelessly on a variety of written works.

Pliny the Elder. (Public Domain)

 Pliny served the Roman army as a military officer of the forces, and later as leader of the cavalry, from 45 to 47 AD. He became acquainted with and wrote about several Roman emperors and discussed Germanic warfare, but his most famous work was the Naturalis Historia. Written around 77 AD, this is a thirty-seven chapter book written in ten volumes, which writer Riley Winters explains:

“utilized all of the experience Pliny went through during his travels and the knowledge of his youth to create a compilation of Roman life. The book dictated astronomy, geography, anthropology, zoology, botany, medicine, magic, and mineralogy, as well as a cornucopia of other topics. The information within has proven incredibly illuminating to both modern day historians, and to the Romans during their time.”

The oldest illustrated version (1513) of the Historia Naturalis of Plinius maior (right). Also showing a 1570 edition of the famous Greek speeches, the Logoi by Demosthenes. (CC BY SA 3.0)

 Top Image: Scene of destruction in the film “Pompeii 3d” (2014). (La Stampa/CC BY NC ND) Insert: Remains of a skull attributed to Pliny the Elder from the Museo di Storia dell'Arte Sanitaria in Rome. (Flavio Russo)

By Alicia McDermott

Friday, September 22, 2017

Who’s Who of Greek Mythology Depicted on the Most Exciting Roman Mosaic Found in the UK in 50 Years

Ancient Origins

A rare and unexpected find that could be one of the UK’s most spectacular Roman mosaics, containing designs based on Greek legend, has been partially revealed during a community archaeology project dig in Berkshire. It has been described by experts as, ‘the best find of its kind in half a century’.

 Boxford’s Community Project
The mosaic has been unearthed during the final stages of the ‘Revealing Boxford’s Ancient Heritage’ project, a community archaeology project to investigate 3 potential Roman sites around Boxford village in West Berkshire. According to Cotswold Archaeology, the project began in 2015 when records from a 19th century drainage ditch showed the possibility of a villa in the area. A collaboration involving historical and archaeological groups and local amateur volunteers was set up to investigate. In two previous year’s work, they uncovered a villa, a bath house and a farmstead. They have continued to explore this year, making some other interesting finds of a bracelet, coins and a plunge pool. However, the wholly unexpected find of such an elaborate and iconographic mosaic is definitely the ornate icing on the cake.

The mosaic at Boxford, Berkshire after cleaning. Note the Victorian plumbing to the right, the report for which was used to identify the position of the villa (Cotswold Archaeology)

A Mythical Mosaic
The mosaic was pieced together in the Roman villa during the 4th century (around 380 AD) during the late Roman period. The excavators revealed a 6 meter (20ft) portion of what is thought to be a 10 meter (33ft) square mosaic, with some damage to one corner due to the laying of Victorian drainage pipes. There is a red border of a half meter which is constructed from roof tiles cut into small squares (tesserae). Within this framing lie the real eye-popping treasures of the piece, an array of different dioramas of Greek legends, which amount to a ‘who’s who of mythical icons’, reports Newbury Today.

Classical art expert and member of The Association for the Study and Preservation of Roman Mosaics, Anthony Beeson, described it as, ‘without question the most exciting mosaic discovery made in Britain in the last 50 years,’ the Guardian reports, and went on to state it, ‘must take a premier place amongst those Romano-British works of art that have come down to modern Britons.”

Although less than half of the mosaic was unearthed, the depictions that have been seen show some rarity amongst other finds in Britain. "The range of imagery is beyond anything seen in this country previously," Duncan Coe, project lead officer at Cotswolds Archaeology, told IBTimes. He continued, "That includes some elements that are entirely unique to this site, which is why we've all got very excited about it. In terms of understanding the art history from this period of late Roman Britain, this is a unique find."

Part of the mosaic at Boxford, potentially depicting Hercules fighting a centaur, and Cupid (Cotswold Archaeology)

Experts who have examined the fragment of the mosaic that has been exposed are pretty sure they have identified images of Atlas, Hercules, Cupid as well as the very distinctive winged horse, Pegasus. A man adorned in a lion skin and wielding a club in battle with a centaur is thought to be Hercules. Cupid is thought to be the male shown with a wreath in his left hand.

A less common iconography found in the partially obscured sideways scene has been interpreted by Beeson as representing the tale of Greek hero, Bellerophon. Bellerophon was sent to slay the mythical chimera, a beastly creature with a lion’s head, goat’s torso and serpent’s tail. Oh, and it breathed fire. The attacking position found here is one seen at only two other sites in the UK. Bellerophon is shown riding Pegasus to the ordeal and receiving a king’s daughter’s hand in reward. A fitting scene for a mosaic found in Britain, as this Greek legend is thought to have morphed into Christendom’s tale of St. George and the Dragon, as brought back from the east by the Crusaders.

Although the craftsmanship of the mosaic is not deemed to be of the highest quality and some of the details are crudely constructed, it is the rarity and range of designs included that makes the find stand out.

The corner of the mosaic seems to have an image of Atlas supporting the inner frame (Cotswold Archaeology)

 Status Symbol

There are some questions though. Finding such a luxurious mosaic at this site is somewhat an anomaly, as the rest of the villa is of medium size and more modest. It leads Duncan Coe, project lead officer at Cotswold Archaeology to pose the questions of what kind of person with seemingly moderate means due to the size of the house, would want to portray such a cultured image? What’s more, what might have been happening in the local economy that provided them the wealth to commission it?

Coe, the Roman expert at Cotswold Archaeology explains how the questions that the mosaic raises makes it interesting archaeologically.

“The mosaic is a truly important find. Not only is it a fantastic new piece of Roman art from Britain, but it also tells us about the lifestyle and social pretensions of the owner of the villa at Boxford. That person wanted to project an image of themselves as a cultivated person of taste – someone familiar with classical mythology and high Roman culture, despite the fact that their villa was of relatively modest size in a remote part of the Roman empire. While this person was most probably of British origin, they wanted to be regarded by their friends, neighbours and subservients as a proper Roman.”

The project as a whole has revealed that the Roman population around Boxford was more extensive than had been known. The collaborative effort has dug up more than would have been imagined in the area and has been thrilling for the volunteers and professionals alike.

For now, the mosaic has once again been covered by dirt in order to protect it from the harmful effects of the elements, but there are hopes to return to the site in the future to excavate it in its entirety.

Top image: Various images of the find including a close up of the supposed Cupid figure (Cotswold Archaeology)

By Gary Manners