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Posts Tagged ‘archaeology’

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Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
North Sea fishing crews have discovered archaeological artifacts in their nets.

I was saying to my husband the other day that I don’t know why scammers think older people are such a good target. Don’t we know more to watch out for after a lifetime of testing reality? But then I find myself susceptible to stories that for one reason or another I want to believe. So maybe it’s true about old folks.

Those of us who want to believe in things like the Lost City of Atlantis will have fun with this story about human settlements that may be submerged under the North Sea.

Nazia Parveen writes at the Guardian, “Lost at the bottom of the North Sea almost eight millennia ago, a vast land area between England and southern Scandinavia which was home to thousands of stone age settlers is about to be rediscovered.

“Marine experts, scientists and archaeologists have spent the past 15 years meticulously mapping thousands of kilometres under water in the hope of unearthing lost prehistoric tribes.

“[In May] a crew of British and Belgian scientists set off on their voyage across the North Sea to reconstruct the ancient Mesolithic landscape hidden beneath the waves for 7,500 years.

The area was submerged when thousands of cubic miles of sub-Arctic ice started to melt and sea levels began to rise.

“The ancient country, known as Doggerland, which could once have had great plains with rich soils, formed an important land bridge between Britain and northern Europe. It was long believed to have been hit by catastrophic flooding.

“Using seabed mapping data the team plans to produce a 3D chart revealing the rivers, lakes, hills and coastlines of the country. Specialist survey ships will take core sediment samples from selected areas to extract millions of fragments of DNA from the buried plants and animals.

“Prof Vincent Gaffney, from the University of Bradford’s school of archaeological and forensic sciences, said: ‘If this is successful it … would be new knowledge of what is really a lost continent.’ …

” ‘We can’t walk those fields looking for pottery or stone fragments, we can’t dig. We’re going to drop “grabs,” or do very small-scale dredges, to see if we can find these stones or tools, to give us a clue as to what is there. We are talking about an area that is the size of a modern European country. And we know almost nothing about it.’ …

“In previous studies funded by the European Research Council, the Lost Frontiers team mapped the Doggerland region, which is about the size of the Netherlands. The team could identify the location of river valleys, marshlands, hills and even white cliffs, but was unable to find evidence of human activity.

“Gaffney said … ‘Vast areas of the North Sea were dry land and inhabited. Then sea levels rose, and pretty much everything about the world changed in this period. The most pleasant places to live would have been on the great plains – which are now out at sea. This is where they would have wanted to be, not in the hills. But it’s all been lost.’ …

“It is understood the ancient civilisation originally covered about 260,000 sq km (100,000 sq miles). However, after the ice age ended, coastal zones became increasingly vulnerable to catastrophic flooding and entire civilisations would have been lost.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photos: Greek Ministry of Culture
Hellenistic era building foundations, found at Agia Sophia Station, Thessaloniki.

Having studied Ancient Greek for five years in school, I retain a soft place in my heart for the culture and history of that part of the world and am always interested in the latest archaeological finds. Here is a story about setting out to build a subway system in the city of Thessaloniki and finding unexpected treasures.

Nick Squires writes at the Telegraph, “The construction of a metro network beneath the Greek city of Thessaloniki has unearthed an extraordinary treasure trove of ancient artefacts, from gold wreaths and rings to statues of the goddess Aphrodite. …

“Archeologists have dug up more than 300,000 artefacts, from coins and jewellery to marble statues, amphorae, oil lamps and perfume vases. They were found in what would have been the thriving commercial centre of the ancient city, which was the second most important conurbation in the Byzantine Empire after Constantinople.

“During the construction of the metro network, archeologists found a stone-paved road, the Decumanus Maximus, which would have run through the heart of Thessaloniki in the sixth century AD, as well as the remains of villas, shops, workshops and an early Christian church. More than 5,000 tombs and graves were uncovered, some of them containing exquisite golden wreaths.

“ ‘The excavations are the biggest archaeological project of recent years in Greece,’ Yannis Mylopoulos, the chairman of Attiko Metro, the company building the network, told the Telegraph. …

“ ‘A large number of statues depicting Aphrodite have been found in the city centre, while several more came to light in the area around the Church of the Acheiropoietos (a fifth century AD Byzantine church),” Dr Polyxeni Adam-Veleni, the head of the antiquities department in Thessaloniki, told a recent conference on the discoveries. …

“Work on the new metro system, which is designed to ease traffic congestion and reduce air pollution in the city, began in 2006. The network of 18 stations was supposed to have been finished in 2012, but progress was stalled by the discovery of so many antiquities. It is now due to be operational next year.

“The 100 yard-long paved road – the Decumanus Maximus – will remain in situ and will be incorporated into one of the network’s stations, Eleftherios Venizelos, named after a prominent politician and national hero from the early 20th century.

“ ‘People will be able to see it when they enter and exit the metro station and can even go down and walk on it if they want,’ said Prof Mylopoulos. …

“Incorporating ancient archeological sites into an underground rail network was a huge challenge in terms of both engineering and expense. … Findings from the metro excavation will be displayed in various museums in Thessaloniki.”

More here.

Gold crown from a burial dating to the late 4th – early 3rd century. BC found at Syntrivani Station, Thessaloniki.

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Image: Casto Vocal
Virtual reconstruction of northernmost section of pre-Incan temple in Bolivia.

Here’s why a general education may equip the workforce of the future better than job-specific training: you never know what skills will be needed. In this example, a new breed of adaptable archaeologist is expanding the use of 3-D technology to reimagine lost worlds.

George Dvorsky writes at Gizmodo, “The 1,500-year-old Pumapunku temple in western Bolivia is considered a crowning achievement of Andean architecture, yet no one knows what the original structure actually looked like. Until now.

“Using historical data, 3D-printed pieces, and architectural software, archaeologist Alexei Vranich from UC Berkeley has created a virtual reconstruction of Pumapunku — an ancient Tiwanaku temple now in ruins. Archaeologists have studied the site for over 150 years, but it wasn’t immediately obvious how all the broken and scattered pieces belonged together. The surprisingly simple approach devised by Vranich is finally providing a glimpse into the structure’s original appearance. Excitingly, the same method could be used to virtually reconstruct similar ruins. The details of this achievement were published [last December] in Heritage Science.

“First, some background on the structure. Pumapunku, which means ‘door of the puma,’ was a temple designed and built by the pre-Incan Tiwanaku culture, who lived and thrived in what is now western Bolivia from 500 AD to 1,000 AD. …

“Pumapunku displayed a level of craftsmanship that was largely unparalleled in the pre-Columbian New World, and it’s often considered the architectural peak of Andean lithic technology prior to the arrival of the Europeans. …

“Unfortunately, the ruins of Tiwanaku, and the Pumapunku temple in particular, have been ransacked repeatedly over the past half-millenium. Archaeologists have virtually no idea what the structure actually looked like. None of the blocks that once comprised the original structure are currently located in their original place, and many of them are badly damaged or decayed. …

“To overcome these difficulties and limitations, Vranich and his colleagues integrated historical archaeological data with modern computer software and 3D-printer technology to reconstruct the ancient temple, and by doing so, devised an entirely new approach to reconstructing and visualizing ancient ruins that would otherwise be impossible to build.

“The team created miniature 3D-printed models, at 4 percent actual size, of the temple’s 140 known pieces, which were based on measurements compiled by archaeologists over the past 150 years and Vranich’s own on-site observations of the ruins. … The researchers could have performed this work exclusively in the virtual realm, but they had better luck with tangible, physical pieces they could freely move around.

“ ‘It was much easier to use the 3D-printed models,’ Vranich told Gizmodo. ‘You can quickly manipulate them in your hand and try position after position. It is much slower and less intuitive on the computer.’ …

“Satisfied with their Lego-like configurations, the researchers keyed their creations into an architectural modeling program, culminating in a single hypothetical model of the temple complex. This wasn’t terribly difficult, as the construction methods used by the Tiwanaku people, and how they formed their incredibly geometric stones, are well documented, explained Vranich. But the exercise yielded some new findings.

“ ‘What we found out is that it appears they were making prototypes for each type of stone type, and then would have copied one after the other. It’s almost like it was a pre-Columbian version of Ikea.’ …

“Another interesting finding was that the gateways scattered around the site were lined up in a way to create a mirror effect. That is, ‘one big gateway, then another smaller one in line, then another,’ he said. ‘It would create an effect as if you were looking into infinity in the confines of a single room.’ ”

Read more here.

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Photos: Ciro Fusco / Pompeii Parco Archeologico
Frescoes in Pompeii’s newly discovered “Enchanted Garden” room. The ashes of Mount Vesuvius left the ancient city remarkably intact after the volcano erupted in 79 AD.

When my younger grandson told me about a volcano in Guadalupe, where Suzanne’s family spent the holiday, he hastened to reassure me that it didn’t erupt. He’s six, and a stickler for fact.

Whether young or old, we are all fascinated by the extraordinary power of volcanoes and the way they change the world very suddenly, sometimes with no warning at all.

The complete destruction of Pompeii by the volcano Vesuvius in Italy is one of the reasons eruptions have such a hold over the collective imagination.

Interestingly, Pompeii continues to yield previously unseen beauty to archaeologists even after all these years.

As Sarah Cascone reported in October at ArtNetNews, “Pompeii is the city that keeps on giving. More than two hundred and fifty years after the ancient Roman town was discovered buried under a heap of volcanic ash, the archeological finds show no sign of abating. Now, archaeologists for the Great Pompei Project have uncovered yet another impressive discovery: an ancient shrine, or lararium, covered in gorgeously preserved frescoes, in a 16-by-12-foot room containing an altar, a garden, and a small pool.

“The Italian media has dubbed the new room, which would have been partially covered by a tile roof, ‘the Enchanted Garden.’ The figures in the paintings include two serpents, a wild boar fighting unidentified creatures against a blood-red backdrop, and a mysterious man with the head of a dog that may have been inspired by the Egyptian god Anubis. In front of a painted peacock, strolling through the plants, there would have been a planted flower bed, extending the illusionistic decorative design into the real world.

“ ‘It is the first time that such complex decoration has been found in a space dedicated to worship inside a house,’ Massimo Osanna, the director of the Parco Archeologico di Pompei, told the Wall Street Journal, praising the find as exceptional.

“ ‘Every house had a lararium of some kind,’ Ingrid Rowland, a professor at the University of Notre Dame and the author of From Pompeii: The Afterlife of a Roman Town, told the New York Times. But ‘only the wealthiest people could have afforded a lararium inside a special chamber with a raised pool and sumptuous decorations.’

“After clearing out the volcanic rock fragments, or lapili, that had buried the room for almost two millennia, archaeologists found an altar decorated with eggs, a symbol of fertility. There are burnt remains, which archaeologists believe may have contained food offerings, such as eggs, figs, or nuts, to fertility deities. The altar is flanked by paintings of the Roman gods of household rituals. …

“New excavations are much more careful than the original explorations of the site, which began in 1748. Without modern technology and techniques to aid their excavations, early archaeologists could be quite destructive. The new discovery helps provide a better understanding of what the early excavations would have looked like when first uncovered. …

“Since 2011, Italy has been carrying out much-needed preservation and restoration work to preserve the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Great Pompeii Project, an initiative aimed at stemming the deterioration of the ancient structures, had an initial budget of €105 million ($140 million). … The discovery of the ‘Enchanted Garden’ represents perhaps the project’s greatest success thus far.”

More here.

In Pompeii, a recently uncovered household shrine, or lararium, features two serpents among its beautifully preserved frescoes.

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Photo:  Svt Nyheter
Saga Vanecek, an 8-year-old Swedish-American girl, pulled a 1,500-year-old sword from a lake in southern Sweden last July, prompting comparisons to Arthurian legends about the Sword in the Stone and the Lady of the Lake.

You never know when wonders will appear. This little girl was not out helping archaeologists on a dig like the 13-year-old boy in this earlier post. She was just dawdling in a lake while her father was calling her to hurry so he could watch the World Cup on television. And then — a miracle.

Jon Henley writes at the Guardian, “An eight-year-old girl has pulled a 1,500-year-old sword from a lake in southern Sweden.

“ ‘I felt something with my hand and at first I thought it was a stick,’ Saga Vanecek told the local Värnamo Nyheter [VN] newspaper. ‘Then it had a handle that looked like it was a sword, and then I lifted it up and shouted: “Daddy, I found a sword!” ‘

“The find, made in July but announced only [in October] for fear it would trigger a summer stampede to the site at Tånnö on the shore of Lake Vidöstern, felt ‘pretty cool and a bit exciting,’ she told the Swedish public broadcaster Sveriges Radio. …

“Her father, Andrew, said in a Facebook post that the sword, estimated by experts from the nearby Jönköping county museum to date to the 5th or 6th century AD, before the Viking era, was still in the remains of its wood and leather scabbard.

“He told VN he had been waiting impatiently for his daughter to come in from the water because the football World Cup final was about to start, but she was busy skimming stones. Then she stooped and held up the ancient weapon.

“Neighbours confirmed to the Swedish-American family, who moved to Sweden from Minnesota last year, that the rusted artefact did indeed look old, and Nevecek called an archaeologist the next day.

“Annie Rosén, from the museum, said: ‘I was on holiday, but when I saw the pictures I went straight away. You cannot imagine such a sword – so well preserved.’

“Another expert at the museum, Mikael Nordström, [said] they were exploring the possibility it could have been a place of sacrifice. … Subsequent searches by museum staff and local council workers uncovered a brooch from roughly the same period but there were no other significant finds.”

More at the Guardian, here. And you can read Saga Vanecek’s own report here.

May 2019 be the year that girls everywhere pull miracles from lakes and stones.

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Photo: Tom Blackie via Flickr
The Avenue of Sphinxes on the Al-Kabbash road in Luxor. Recently, a previously unknown sphinx was discovered by construction workers.

Every day new discoveries. Today I have a story about a recent discovery in Egypt. But first, to refresh your classical memory, the mythological creature called a sphinx has the body of a lion and the head of a human. Although the most famous sphinx story — the one that involved Oedipus — took place in Greece, all the statues of sphinxes are in Egypt.

Naomi Rea writes at artnet news, “A previously unknown statue of a sphinx has been discovered in Egypt, the general director of Luxor Antiquities, Mohamed Abdel Aziz, announced [in August].

“Construction workers upgrading the historic Al-Kabbash Road between the famous Luxor and Karnak temples stumbled upon the find, the English-language Egypt Today reports. …

“The Ministry of Egyptian Antiquities is developing a way to lift the newfound statue from its resting place. … In the meantime, construction work has been paused on the road and the Minister of Antiquities, Khaled al-Anani, is encouraging tourists to visit the site to see the statue.

“A researcher in Egyptology, Bassam al-Shamma, told Egyptian media that the find is not altogether surprising as many similar sphinx statues have been found across Luxor. Several new discoveries have been found in recent years, and the road is already lined with many other small stone versions of the mythical creatures dating from around 1400 BC. …

“The mythical creature of the sphinx has the head of a human and the body of a lion. In ancient Greek tradition, the sphinx’s head is often a merciless female. … For the Egyptians, though, the guardian creature was seen as benevolent, and the heads of the statues were often carved in the likeness of pharaohs. This is the case with the famous Great Sphinx; the monumental statue is thought to have been sculpted in likeness of the pharaoh Khafra.

“Other famous Egyptian sphinxes include a granite example with the head of the pharaoh Hatshepsut, which is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The Great Sphinx of Tanis in the Louvre is one of the largest sphinxes outside of Egypt.”

More at artnet, here

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Photo: Jason Moon / NHPR
These large stones come from the foundation of an early 17th century garrison house near Durham, New Hampshire’s Great Bay. Sea-level rise is adding urgency to archaeological digs.

I’m losing count of the ways that melting glaciers and global warming are beginning to affect our lives. This story comes from New Hampshire, which some readers may be surprised to learn has a border on the ocean. As glaciers melt and waters rise, parts of that border are washing out to sea.

New Hampshire Public Radio’s Jason Moon “joined a [University of New Hampshire] researcher for a hike to see a centuries-old archaeological site that is literally washing away.

“UNH anthropological archaeologist Meghan Howey has a map. It was made in 1635 and it shows the location of garrison houses that once stood near Great Bay in what is now Durham. Garrison houses, in case you’re wondering, were a sort of fortified log cabin built by early colonial settlers in New England.

“But Howey says even though we’ve had this map for almost 400 years, until recently, no one has actually gone out to find the sites. To look for what may have been left behind. …

“Howey and a team of volunteers discovered the location of one of the garrison houses on that map – the remains of a structure where some of the earliest Europeans to ever be in this region lived, worked, and died.

“But that exciting discovery came with some sobering news.

“We reach the end of the forest, where a steep bank drops to a narrow strip of sandy beach. Howey points to the ground beneath our feet.

“I realize that she’s not showing me what’s here, so much as what’s gone. Most of the land where the garrison house once stood has been eaten away by the rising tidal water of the bay.

“ ‘Like quite literally washing away,’ says Howey, ‘and it’s gone, whatever the artifacts were with it – they’ve been, over the years, just washed away.’

“Just one corner of the garrison house’s foundation remains on solid ground. A few feet away, Howey points out a couple of bricks submerged in the shallow salty water. She says the bricks were likely part of the garrison house’s chimney and could date back to the 1600s. They are what remains of an archaeological site that’s largely been lost.

“ ‘Yeah it’s gone. It was a pretty depressing find,’ says Howey. …

“In a new report, she combined sea-level rise projections from climate scientists with the location of historic sites on the Seacoast. She found that as many as 1 in 7 of the region’s known historic sites are at risk.

“But even that number could be a low estimate because it doesn’t include sites like this one, which weren’t known until Howey found it just last year. …

“In many cases, saving historic sites like this from climate change just isn’t feasible. So the best Howey can do is to document what’s here before it’s gone — an archaeological race against time.

“ ‘I feel a great sense of urgency especially after finding these sites are washing away,’ says Howey, ‘there’s a part of me that feels I’m 20 years too late to the problem.’ ”

More here.

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