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Popular archaeology

CNRS—At the foot of the hill on which sits the ancient city of Cumae, in the region of Naples, Priscilla Munzi, CNRS researcher at the Jean Bérard Centre (CNRS-EFR), and Jean-Pierre Brun, professor at the Collège de France, are exploring a Roman-era necropolis. They now reveal the latest discovery to surface in the archaeological dig they have led since 2001: a painted tomb from the 2nd century B.C. In excellent condition, the tomb depicts a banquet scene, fixed by pigments.

Twice the size of Pompeii, the ancient city of Cumae is located 25 km west of Naples on the Tyrrhenian Sea facing the island of Ischia, at the Campi Flegrei Archaeological Park. Ancient historians considered Cumae the oldest Ancient Greek settlement in the western world. Founded in the latter half of the 8th century B.C. by Greeks from Euboea, the settlement grew quickly and prospered over time.

In recent years, French researchers have focused on an area where a Greek sanctuary, roads and a necropolis were found. Among the hundreds of ancient sepulchers unearthed since 2001, they have discovered a series of vaulted burial chambers made of tuff, a volcanic stone found in the area. People entered the tomb through a door in the façade sealed with a large stone block. The space inside was generally composed of a chamber with three vaults or funerary beds. The tombs were raided in the 19th century, but recovered remains and traces of funerary furnishings, which archaeologists have used to date the tombs to the second century B.C., indicate the high social status of those buried within.

Until now, only tombs painted red or white had been found, but in June 2018 researchers discovered a room with exceptionally executed figure painting. A naked servant carrying a jug of wine and a vase is still visible; the banquet’s guests are thought to have been painted on the side walls. Other elements of the banquet can also be distinguished. In addition to the excellent state of conservation of the remaining plaster and pigments, such a décor in a tomb built in that period is rare; its “unfashionable” subject matter was in vogue one or two centuries earlier. This discovery is also an opportunity to trace artistic activity over time at the site.

To preserve the fresco, archaeologists removed it, along with fragments found on the ground, in order to re-assemble the décor like a puzzle.

The digs were carried out with financial support from the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, the Ecole française de Rome and the Fondation du Collège de France. This research is part of a concession granted by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Assets and Activities in partnership with the Phlegraen Fields archaeological site.

 

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East side of the Barbegal mill complex looking north. The buildings on the left are the millbuildings where the grain was milled, the higher walls and basins on the right are the waterbasins of the mill complex that housed the water wheels. Robert Fabre, Saint Etienne du Grès, France

original article:

Populararchaeology

New information about one of the first industrial complexes in history revealed.

Analyzing carbonate deposits from a second century AD Roman watermill site – thought to be one of the first industrial complexes in human history – has revealed characteristics of the mill, including its nonuse for several months of the year. These findings suggest that the Barbegal mill site was not the Roman city of Arelate’s main flour supplier as hypothesized, but rather it was likely used to produce non-perishable “ship’s bread” for the many ancient ships that visited the major ports of Arles during certain times of the year. These findings shed light on the variable uses of ancient mills, as well as on their maintenance and on the destruction of the related sites, information that has otherwise been hard to decipher for these ancient formations. Over the past decades, the unearthing of Roman mill sites has offered proof of notable innovation during the Roman times, especially in the field of hydraulics. A key example of such a watermill is located at Barbegal, in southern France. However, since its discovery in 1937, little has been revealed about its unique history. Gül Sürmelihindi and colleagues sought to discern more about the mill’s use by analyzing 142 carbonate deposits from the complex. Formed on the now decayed wooden parts of the watermill that had been in contact with karst springs, these carbonates can preserve information of the environment of the complex. The fragment samples can be split into two groups: large carbonate slabs that formed in water channels that turned the wheel (millrun flumes) and deposits that had formed on the wooden part of the wheel. Stable isotope analyses of oxygen and carbon showed a distinct, cyclical pattern in the deposits, suggesting interruptions of the water flow during the late summer and autumn, a pattern of activity in accordance with Roman shipping activities, the authors say. Roman shipping usually halted in late autumn, meaning flour production to support shipping could have subsided then, too. Thus, they propose that the mill’s main use was not for widely consumed flour but specifically to produce non-perishable ship’s bread.

 

Mill basin of the Barbegal mill with carbonate deposits.
Robert Fabre, Saint Etienne du Grès, France

 

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Towering over a natural lake—today frequented by masses of tourists, particularly from Asia, who come to admire the picture-perfect Alpine scenery—the Hallstatt mine lies more than 800 metres (2,600 feet) above sea level

Original article:

August 24, 2018 by Philippe Schwab

Phys.org

All mines need regular reinforcement against collapse, and Hallstatt, the world’s oldest salt mine perched in the Austrian Alps, is no exception.

But Hallstatt isn’t like other mines.

Exploited for 7,000 years, the mine has yielded not only a steady supply of salt but also archaeological discoveries attesting to the existence of a rich civilisation dating back to the early part of the first millennium BC.

So far less than two percent of the prehistoric tunnel network is thought to have been explored, with the new round of reinforcement work, which began this month, protecting the dig’s achievements, according to chief archaeologist Hans Reschreiter.

“Like in all the mines, the mountain puts pressure on the tunnels and they could cave in if nothing is done,” Reschreiter told AFP.

Hallstatt was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997 and the work aims to protect it for “future generations”, said Thomas Stelzer, governor of Upper Austria state where the mine is located.

Towering over a natural lake—today frequented by masses of tourists, particularly from Asia, who come to admire the picture-perfect Alpine scenery—the Hallstatt mine lies more than 800 metres (2,600 feet) above sea level.

Among the most striking archaeological discoveries was that of an eight-metre-long wooden staircase dating back to 1100 BC, the oldest such staircase found in Europe

 

3,000-year-old stairs

Among the most striking archaeological discoveries was that of an eight-metre-long wooden staircase dating back to 1100 BC, the oldest such staircase found in Europe.

“It was so well preserved that we could take it apart and reassemble it,” Reschreiter said.

Other items date back much further. Excavated in 1838, an axe made from staghorn dating from 5,000 BC showed that as early as then, miners “tried hard to extract salt from here,” Reschreiter said.

In the mid-19th century, excavations revealed a necropolis that showed the site’s prominence during the early Iron Age.

The civilisation became known as “Hallstatt culture”, ensuring the site’s fame.

“Thousands of bodies have been excavated, almost all flaunting rich bronze ornaments, typically worn by only the wealthiest,” Reschreiter said. “The remains bore the marks of hard physical labour from childhood, while also showing signs of unequalled prosperity.”

Priceless ‘white gold’

Salt—long known as “white gold”—was priceless at the time. And Hallstatt produced up to a tonne every day, supplying “half of Europe”, he said, adding that the difficult-to-access location “became the continent’s richest, and a major platform for trading in 800 BC”.

Testifying to this are sword handles made of African ivory and Mediterranean wine bowls found at the site.

A second series of excavations—started by Vienna’s Museum of Natural History some 60 years ago—produced more surprises.

In tunnels more than 100 metres below the surface, archaeologists discovered “unique evidence” of mining activity at an “industrial” scale during the Bronze Age, Reschreiter said.

As well as revealing wooden retaining structures more than 3,000 years old which were perfectly preserved by the salt, the excavation unearthed numerous tools, leather gloves and a rope—thick as a fist—as well as the remains of millions of wooden torches.

Continuously active

Also used by Celts and during the Roman era when salt was used to pay legions stationed along the Danube River—it is the origin of the word “salary”—the mine has never stopped working since prehistoric times.

Today, about 40 people still work there, using high-pressure water to extract the equivalent of 250,000 tonnes of salt per year.

“Salt doesn’t have the same value as in antiquity anymore. But some of its new uses, such as in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries, are still highly profitable,” said Kurt Thomanek, technical director of salt supplier Salinen Austria.

Tourism linked to the archaeological discoveries is also “a pillar of our activities”, Thomanek added.

Last year, some 200,000 people visited the Hallstatt mine

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A Roman mosaic with fishing scene, found in Hippolytus House in greater Madrid, Spain. Photograph: Alberto Paredes/Alamy Stock Photo

 

Ancient whale bones have been found on three Roman fish processing sites close to the Strait of Gibraltar

original article:

Theguardian.com

Nicola DavisTue 10 Jul 2018 19.01 EDT

Ancient bones found around the Strait of Gibraltar suggest that the Romans might have had a thriving whaling industry, researchers have claimed.

The bones, dating to the first few centuries AD or earlier, belong to grey whales and North Atlantic right whales – coastal migratory species that are no longer found in European waters.

Researchers say this not only suggests these whales might have been common around the entrance to the Mediterranean in Roman times, but that Romans might have hunted them.

They add that Romans would not have had the technology to hunt whale species found in the region today – sperm or fin whales which live further out at sea – meaning evidence of whaling might not have been something archaeologists and historians were looking out for.

“It’s the coastal [species] that makes all the difference,” said Dr Ana Rodrigues, first author of the research from the Functional and Evolutionary Ecology Centre, CEFE, in France.

The right whale was once widespread in the North Atlantic, with breeding grounds off the northern coast of Spain and north west Africa, but was hunted by Medieval Basque whalers among others, and are now only found in the Western North Atlantic. Grey whales disappeared from the North Atlantic some time in the 18th century, and are now only found in the Pacific.

Until the recent discoveries it was unclear whether the whales’ habitat had ever included the Mediterranean: the region is southerly enough for the animals to potentially calve there after feeding in more northerly areas. While there are a handful of historical reports of right whales cropping up in the Mediterranean, the only reliable grey whale sighting in the region was in 2010 and is thought to have been a misguided individual that turned up from the Pacific.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Rodrigues and a team of archaeologists and ecologists, describe how they set out to unpick the issue by examining 10 bones – thought to be from whales – collected during recent archaeological digs or housed in museum collections. These bones came from five sites – four around the Strait of Gibraltar and one site on the coast of north-west Spain, three of which were linked to the Roman fish-salting and fish-sauce making industries.

The team combined previous anatomical analysis with new analyses based both on DNA extracted from the bones and their collagen – a protein whose makeup differs between groups of species, and which degrades more slowly than DNA.

While one of the bones was found to be from a dolphin and another from an elephant – possibly a war animal – three were identified as grey whales, and two as North Atlantic right whales with another also suspected of being from this latter species. All were found by carbon-dating as being from either Roman or pre-Roman times – findings backed up by dating based on information from the archaeological sites.

The team say the discovery suggests grey and North Atlantic right whales were common in the waters around the Strait of Gibraltar during Roman times, since whale bones rarely end up in the archaeological record and they are not prized possessions.

This theory is backed up by writings from the time: Pliny the Elder – a fervent naturalist who died down the coast from Pompeii during the volcanic disaster – appears to reference whales calving in the coastal waters off Cadiz in the winter in his Naturalis Historia. And if the whales were present, the team say, it is possible the Romans hunted them.

The team say the location of the bones, and other evidence, suggests whales might even have entered further into the Mediterranean sea itself to calve.

Dr Vicki Szabo, an expert in whaling history from Western Carolina University said the study offered a rare glimpse into the past habitats of the whales, and backed up ideas that industrial hunting might have happened far earlier than widely thought, although its scale is unclear. “Whales are considered archaeologically invisible because so few bones are transported from shore to site, so I think in that context this concentration of species that they have is meaningful,” she said.

Mark Robinson, professor of environmental archaeology at the University of Oxford, said there have been suggestions for a decade that some Roman sites with fish vats in the region might have been linked to whaling. “The Greek author Oppian, writing in the 2nd century AD, describes whales being hunted in the Western Mediterranean by harpooning them on the surface, also using tridents and axes to kill them, lashing them to a boats and then dragging them to the shore.”

However Dr Erica Rowan, a classical archaeologist at Royal Holloway, University of London, said while the study suggests the habitats of the whales probably extended to include the Gibraltar region, how common the whales were and whether the Romans industrially hunted them as they did fish such as tuna remains unclear – not least because the study included just a handful of bones from a period spanning several hundred years.

“I think that if these whales were present in such numbers and were being caught on an industrial scale that we would have more evidence, perhaps not in the zoo archaeological record but in the ceramic record and in the literary sources,” she said. “The Romans ate and talked about an enormous variety of fish and seafood, and if whale was widely exploited and exported, then it is strangely absent from many discussions.”

But Rodrigues is more hopeful about what the discovery tells us. “I think [this study] can change our perspective of the Roman economy,” she said.

 

 

 

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CHEMICAL ANALYSIS CONDUCTED ON ANCIENT POTTERY PROVES OLIVE OIL EXISTED IN ITALY 700 YEARS SOONER THAN WHAT’S PREVIOUSLY BEEN RECORDED.

Chemical analysis conducted on ancient pottery discovered from the Early Bronze Age proves Italians started using olive oil 700 years sooner than what’s previously been recorded.

Source: Italy’s oldest olive oil discovered in peculiar pot

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Researchers pack the shaft at Augusta Raurica with snow. File photo: Peter-Andrew Schwarz

 

Original article:

Thelocal.ch

 

 

Archaeologists near the Swiss city of Basel are trying to definitively establish if mysterious shafts discovered at Switzerland’s extensive Augusta Raurica site in 2013 could have been ancient refrigerators.

The Romans used shafts like the four-metre deep examples at Augusta Raurica – some 20 kilometres from Basel – as cool stores during summer.

The shafts were filled with snow and ice during winter and then covered with straw to keep the space cool well into the summer months. This then allowed for everything from cheese to wine – and even oysters – to be preserved during warm weather.

Now a team lead by Peter-Andrew Schwarz from the University of Basel is attempting, for the third time, to demonstrate that the Augusta Raurica shafts were indeed used as fridges, Swiss news agency SDA/ATS reports.

A first attempt to recreate the ancient cool box failed after archaeologists at the dig filed the shaft with snow all in one go. But that experiment showed temperatures in the shaft were above freezing point even in winter.

The second try was more successful: the shaft was gradually filled with snow and ice blocks were placed inside as well. Using these methods, snow remained until June.

Now, however, researchers plan to use methods developed by the so-called ‘nevaters’ or ice-makers on the Spanish island of Majorca. This will see Schwarz and his team placing 20–30-centimetre-thick layers of snow into the shaft. These individual layers will then be compacted down with a straw cover placed on top of each one.

“With this method, people in Majorca could keep food cool in summer before the arrival of electric fridges,” Schwarz told regional daily Basler Zeitung in 2017.

Work at the site of the ‘fridge’ will continue until Friday with the dig open to the public.

The experiment won’t prove that the mysterious shaft was actually a Roman fridge but will show that this is possible, Schwarz told the SDA/ATS news agency.

A final evaluation will be made in August.

 

 

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Original article:

Popular archaeology

 

 

Chemical analysis on these storage jars mark the earliest discovery of wine residue in the entire prehistory of the Italian peninsula. Credit: Dr. Davide Tanasi, University of South Florid

 

UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA (USF HEALTH)—Chemical analysis conducted on ancient pottery could dramatically predate the commencement of winemaking in Italy. A large storage jar from the Copper Age (early 4th millennium BC) tests positive for wine.
This finding published in Microchemical Journal is significant as it’s the earliest discovery of wine residue in the entire prehistory of the Italian peninsula. Traditionally, it’s been believed wine growing and wine production developed in Italy in the Middle Bronze Age (1300-1100 B.C.) as attested just by the retrieval of seeds, providing a new perspective on the economy of that ancient society

Lead author Davide Tanasi, PhD, University of South Florida in Tampa conducted chemical analysis of residue on unglazed pottery found at the Copper Age site of Monte Kronio in Agrigento, located off the southwest coast of Sicily. He and his team determined the residue contains tartaric acid and its sodium salt, which occur naturally in grapes and in the winemaking process.
It’s very rare to determine the composition of such residue as it requires the ancient pottery to be excavated intact. The study’s authors are now trying to determine whether the wine was red or white.
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