Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Phoenician temple found in Sicily

ANSA.it : "An ancient Phoenician temple unearthed in Sicily is 'unique' in the West, the head of the Italian dig team claims .

'You have to go all the way to Amrit in Syria to find a similar one,' said Lorenzo Nigro of the Rome University team .

The temple came to light last year after a portion of a lagoon surrounding the Phoenician city of Motya (present-day Mozia) was drained .

The pool began to fill up again and a fresh-water spring was found - a fact Nigro believes proves it was used as a holy place.

'The Phoenicians placed their cities on the coast near water springs, which for them meant that there was a divine presence there.' Digs at the site, on the westernmost tip of Sicily near Marsala, have brought to light the ruins of a 'monumental' temple including columns of a type used by the Phoenicians on Cyprus - as well as fragments of an obelisk .

'The similarity with the Temple of the Obelisks at Byblos, Lebanon, is clear,' Nigro said .

Nigro believes the pool flanking the temple was used for water rituals and offerings to Baal, the Phoenician god of the sea and the underworld .

However, other Italian archaeologists do not agree with him .

'The pool is without doubt merely a dock used for repairing ships,' said Sebastiano Tusa of Naples University, head of marine archaeology for the Sicilian regional government .

Motya - whose name means 'wool-spinning centre' - was founded in the 8th century BC, about a century after the foundation of the most famous Phoenician colony in the ancient world, Carthage in Tunisia ."

Thursday, February 23, 2006

G-String-Clad Gladiator Found

Somehow I missed this interesting little tidbit a couple of months ago.

Discovery Channel: "Divers exploring a river near a former Roman Empire fort and settlement in Britain have found a piece of pottery that depicts the backside of a rather buff gladiator wielding a whip and wearing nothing but a G-string, according to British researchers.

The image represents the first known depiction of a gladiator in such revealing attire. It adds to the evidence that ancient Romans viewed gladiators not only as fearless warriors, but also as sex symbols.

Philippa Walton, who analyzed the object and is a finds liaison officer for the Cambridgeshire County Council, described the artifact to Discovery News. 'The find is a small shard of pottery possibly from a drinking beaker made in Britain in the 3rd century A.D.,' Walton said. 'It depicts a man wearing a G-string and possibly holding a whip and is likely therefore to represent a gladiator.'

"A lot of film stars and celebrities like to show a bit of bum, so the Romans were no doubt the same or worse," Rolfe Hutchinson told Discovery News. He discovered the object with diving partner Bob Middlemass. "After all, they were the celebrities of the day."

The ancient Romans may have relished such dramatic displays of beefcake and power, but they also could be quite practical.

Near the site of the pottery shard, Hutchinson and Middlemass also found a copper razor handle, dating to approximately the same period. The handle was modeled into the shape of a Roman soldier leg and foot, the two-inch-high foot wearing a heavy wool sock stuffed into a sandal."

Fair fight: research shows gladiators played by rules

World - smh.com.au: "GLADIATORS of the Roman arena fought according to their own brutal version of the Queensberry Rules, new research suggests.

Forensic tests on the remains of 67 gladiators from a cemetery in Turkey show the fighters stuck to strict rules of combat, just as modern boxers must follow the Queensberry guidelines, introduced in 1867.

Savage violence and mutilation, typical of battlefields at the time, was not the order of the day in the arena. Death for the vanquished was relatively swift and merciful.

The research also challenges the view of some experts that gladiatorial combat was a form of spectacular martial art that only rarely ended in death, as the fighters seldom fought until one of them died.

The latest evidence shows wounded participants were often given the coup-de-grace by a backstage executioner, delivered with a hammer blow to the head.

Although most gladiators wore helmets, 10 had died of a squarish hammer-like injury to the side of the head.

It is likely these injuries were inflicted after the fight - possibly by a backstage executioner who struck the doomed victim's head, as has been suggested in artworks and literature."

I found this latest conclusion a bit puzzling. The Discovery Channel produced a program about the excavation at Ephesus and the scientist interviewed attributed the small square head wounds apparently delivered when the victim was not wearing a helmet to a trident used on a hapless retiarius whose opponent had killed him with his own weapon. They even showed how the holes matched the penetration pattern of an ancient trident. Of course, it does make one wonder when they find ten of such victims in one dig. Maybe that ludus had a very poor retiarius trainer!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Hadrian's Villa yields Staircase and Sphinx in Tivoli

Having just visited Hadrian's Villa last spring, I found this article particularly interesting. Hadrian's sprawling complex covers at least 250 acres and may encompass over 650 acres, much of it as yet unexcavated. I wonder what other fantastic discoveries await?

ABC News: "A theatrical mask is seen during a presentation to the press of new findings from a dig at Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli, near Rome, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2006. Archeologist who have been digging for more than a year at the villa got their reward, unearthing a monumental staircase, a statue of an athlete and what appears to be a headless sphinx. The findings were presented Tuesday by government officials, who described them as extremely important for understanding the layout of the ruins. The staircase is believed to be the original entrance to the villa, which was build for the Roman emperor in the 2nd century A.D. So far, 15 steps, each 27 feet wide, have been identified and archaeologists did not rule out uncovering more." (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

For more on Hadrian's Villa see this article.

Trove of Teutonic weapons uncovered in Krusne Hory region

Trove of Teutonic weapons uncovered in Krusne Hory region - 09-02-2006 - Radio Prague: "It's not unusual in this country [Czechoslovakia] to come across weapons caches dating back to the Second World War. But, finding a pile of javelin tips, parts of shields and a sword dating back to the 2nd century A.D., doesn't happen every day.

'It is a remarkable find but not because of individual items but because of the number of items found,' archaeologist Lenka Onderkova explained. 'Germanic tribes regularly buried important warriors together with their swords, or spears, or bits of broken shield, but in this case what's unusual is the high number of items found at a single site. The number of objects found - and their variety in this case - is what makes this find important.'

'The only similar such find took place in Eastern Bohemia in the 1950s. But, it was not without controversy. To this day it has been a matter of debate whether that find was a destroyed burial site, or a place for sacrifice. There they found far less: for example just four spears compared to the eleven at Krusne Hory. The latest find could be truly unique.'

The Krusne Hory find certainly includes more items: twenty-two separate pieces including shield handles, pike tips, and an iron sword of typical Teutonic design. But, the find could have revealed more: archaeologists were reportedly upset - understandably- by the fact that the local who made the discovery not only removed the items from the area, but waited so ong to report his find. That complicated matters. Viewing the site and seeing the original positioning of the items, could have been invaluable, likely revealing more about the items' long-dead owners and the circumstances of their burial, than the weapons do on their own. Given the delay, archaeologists were no longer able to decipher, for example, why the items were originally placed in such a shallow grave.
On one thing specialists do agree: found at high altitude, far from the nearest settlement or the nearest river, this must have been a ritual burial site. A final, quiet resting place for Teutonic warriors."

Unfinished Maxentius Villa Puzzles Archaeologists

"Historians have long assumed that the reviled Roman emperor Maxentius lived part-time at an 80-acre suburban villa complex until he was killed by his rival Constantine at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in A.D. 312.

But a University of Colorado-led archaeology team has uncovered evidence that the villa's main hall was never occupied.

Instead, it appears to have been abandoned before completion, said CU archaeologist Diane Conlin, co-director of the Maxentius project, a five-year excavation that began last summer.

'Maxentius builds a lot in Rome during his extremely short reign,' Conlin said. 'And the pattern - up to our project - is that Constantine either finishes the buildings and takes them over, or he demolishes them and builds something new.

'But this (villa) stands outside that pattern of behavior,' she said. 'Instead of being finished or demolished, it was abandoned.'

Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maxentius ruled Rome from A.D. 306 to 312, a time when the empire was in 'a holding pattern at the end of its period of greatness,' said CU historian Noel Lenski. Maxentius, son of the emperor Maximian, was in his 20s when he took power.

At the villa complex about two miles south of Rome's center and just outside the city's defensive walls, Maxentius built a chariot course with grandstand seating for 30,000 and monuments to his only son, Romulus. The boy was 9 when he drowned in the Tiber River, the same fate Maxentius met at the Milvian Bridge.

The day after that battle, Maxentius' armor-clad body was fished from the Tiber mud by Constantine's troops. His head was lopped off and displayed as 'an emblem of victory and conquest,' Conlin said.

Constantine reportedly had a vision of God the night before the battle and converted to Christianity on the spot.

But Maxentius was a pagan. Archaeologists wonder if his villa project on the Via Appia - the first and most well-known ancient Roman road - was an attempt to strengthen ties with Christians, Conlin said.

"One major question that we hope to answer is why Maxentius built this grand villa complex outside the defensive walls of the city when he had full control of pre-existing imperial palaces located in the heart of the capital," she said.

Limited investigations of the villa site were conducted in 1825 and again in the 1960s. Italian archaeologists exposed exterior walls but didn't dig into the interior of the large main hall, or basilica, Conlin said.

CU archaeologists and their colleagues sank two trenches in the main hall during a five-week field season last summer. Two more trenches will be opened in the basilica this summer. Twenty students from CU and Kalamazoo College in Michigan joined in the 2005 work.

After digging through modern garbage deposits and cemented chunks of architectural debris, the team reached the ancient basilica and found "a bare skeleton of brick and concrete," Conlin said.

A finished basilica from the period would feature stone mosaics on the floor and decorative marble slabs on the walls. The researchers found 800 pounds of marble fragments, but no piece was bigger than 12 inches by 6 inches. Instead of mosaic floors, they found only a brick subfloor.

"It seems like no one ever lived there," Lenski said. "It was 85 to 90 percent completed. It was the finishing touches that were left off."

The marble fragments suggest that bigger slabs had been installed but were later hauled away."

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Met to return antiquities looted from Etruscan tomb

"New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art today offered to return 20 artifacts in its collection to Italy, which says the ancient art was looted.

The disputed items include a 2,500-year-old vase painted by the Greek artist Euphronios, a 15-piece set of Hellenistic silver and four ancient pots.

The Euphronios vase is ``one of the finest existing examples of an Attic krater,'' a vessel used to mix wine with water, the Met's Web site says, referring to the museum's vase from Athens. It depicts a Trojan War scene from the Iliad in which Zeus's dead son, Sarpedon, is carried off the battlefield.

The talks with the Met are part of a broader push by Italian authorities to seize antiquities they say were illegally excavated or exported, including items at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Princeton University Art Museum in New Jersey, the Cleveland Museum of Art and others.

The Italian evidence for the Met's allegedly looted pots comes largely from the trial of Roman art dealer Giacomo Medici, who was convicted in December 2004 of smuggling objects that are now at the Met, Getty and other museums, Fiorilli said. Medici, 67, denies the charges and is free while appealing his conviction and 10-year prison sentence.

Prosecutors charge that Medici bought the Euphronios krater from tomb robbers who had excavated the pot in Cerveteri, near Rome."

Archaeologists unearth ancient Cretan tomb - Feb 2, 2006

CNN.com:A well-preserved underground tomb belonging to a prominent Roman-era family has been unearthed on the island of Crete, archaeologists said Wednesday.

The large first or second century A.D. structure beside one of the main gates to the walled city of Aptera was looted during Christian times, archaeologist Vanna Niniou-Kindeli said.

It still yielded a wealth of finds, including 10-inch pottery statuettes of the ancient Greek love deity Eros, glass and pottery vases and lamps.

Built of large stone blocks, the grave is reached by a flight of steps. It has an antechamber and a main room measuring three by two yards that was the site of four burials.

'These must have been highly important citizens, probably among the city's wealthiest, who had contributed to the common good of the city,' Niniou-Kindeli said. 'In return, they were buried in a prominent position so that whoever entered the city saw the grave.'

Archaeologists also discovered a small burial ground of newborns dating to the 4th century B.C., just outside the city walls."