Sunday, January 28, 2007

Normandy grave hints at 300-year defiance of the Roman Empire

By John Lichfield in Evreux, The Independent

"A macabre 1,700-year-old mass grave of people and horses, discovered in Normandy, poses perplexing new questions about the Roman conquest of France. Was there a small part of ancient Gaul which refused, Asterix-like, to surrender for 300 years?

The grave site, from the 3rd century, which was discovered by French state archaeologists at Evreux, appears to contain ritual arrangements of human and horse remains. In one, a human skull is clasped between two horse's skulls, like the two halves of a giant shell.

In Gaullish times, 300 years earlier, graves containing both horses and people were common. No such grave has ever been found from the Roman period, and even in the previous era, the remains were kept carefully apart.

In the recently discovered grave, about 50 miles west of Paris, the bones appear to have been intentionally mixed. The skeletons of 40 people and 100 horses have been found so far.

Was this a local - or maybe more widespread - survival of the Gaullish cult of Epona, the goddess of horses and warriors? Sylvie Pluton is leader of the dig for the |Institut National de Recherches Arcéologique Préventives (Inrap). She is also an expert on the Gallo-Roman period.

"With the Romans, you usually know what to expect," she said. "They were very organised. Their graves were very orderly. Not here. The bodies point in all directions ... Above all, there is extraordinary mingling of humans and horses. We could be looking at a cultural survival, previously unknown, such as a worship of the goddess Epona."

Roman graves often contained offerings of food, but Romans did not eat horse flesh. Nor can this have been a warriors' grave. Many of the human skeletons are those of children or women or old men.

Some Gaullish practices and beliefs did survive deep into Roman times, but there have been no previous finds as striking. One of the visitors to the site was Professor Christian Goudineau of the Collège de France, the foremost expert on the period. He said: "Personally, I am reluctant to believe in some kind of cultural survival, such as a cult of the goddess Epona. Why would it survive for so long? And here, on the edge of what we know was a large Roman town?"

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Police seize 1st century reliefs of early gladiatorial combat

Italian police have unearthed the hidden cache of a group of grave robbers, recovering ancient Roman marble reliefs depicting stunningly lifelike gladiators locked in mortal combat, officials said Wednesday.

The 12 panels were found buried in the garden of a private home near Fiano Romano, some 25 miles north of Rome, and officials hailed the find as a major archaeological discovery and a blow to the illegal antiquities market.

Archaeologists said the work offers a glimpse into early gladiator fights, before the rise of more extravagant forms of combat popularized in the modern era by Hollywood movies.

The reliefs date back to the late first century B.C. and are believed to have decorated a tomb, yet to be located, in the Roman settlement of Lucus Feroniae, said Anna Maria Moretti, the superintendent for antiquities in the area north of Rome.

The pieces, made of high-quality Carrara marble, are notable for their size and age, and are among the finest examples from their period depicting one of Rome's favorite blood sports, Moretti said.

"The attention to detail is incredible," she said at a presentation of the finds at Rome's Villa Giulia Museum.

The panels show bare-chested fighters, armed with swords and shields, engaged in duels while surrounded by trumpet and horn players who accompanied the phases of combat in the bloodied arena. In one of the most dramatic scenes, a gladiator steps on the wrist of a downed opponent who raises a finger in a traditional plea for mercy.

The reliefs will undergo restoration before being shown to the public at Villa Giulia, officials said.

Archaeologists have unearthed many similar representations, but interest in the new discovery goes beyond its high-quality craftsmanship, Moretti said. The figures in the reliefs, equipped only with swords, shields and basic armor, offer a detailed image from the earlier days of gladiatorial combat.

Antonine Wall to be nominated for World Heritage status

"THE UK government will put forward a historic Scottish landmark for World Heritage Site status, it was announced today.

The Antonine Wall will be nominated to the United Nations for the elite heritage status. It would become only the fifth Scottish landmark to have been bestowed lofty recognition.

The 2,000-year-old wall runs 37 miles from Bo'ness in West Lothian to Old Kilpatrick in West Dunbartonshire and is one of the most significant Roman remains in existence. It is an extension to the trans-national Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site, which includes Hadrian's Wall and the Upper German Raetian Limes.

Antonine Wall is named after Emperor Antonius Pius. It was built in 142 AD to keep Caledonian tribesman out of the northern part of Rome's empire. Two-thirds of the wall, made up of 12ft-high turf ramparts on a stone base, still survives.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Possible Lupercale found in Palatine Excavation

Work on Rome's Palatine Hill has turned up a trove of discoveries, including what might be the underground grotto where ancient Romans believed a wolf nursed the city's legendary founders Romulus and Remus.

It was during the restoration of the palace of Rome's first emperor that workers taking core samples from the hill found what could be a long-lost place of worship, believed by ancient Romans to be the cave where a she-wolf suckled Romulus and Remus, the abandoned twin sons of the god of war Mars.

Irene Iacopi, the archaeologist in charge of the Palatine and the nearby Roman Forum, said experts used a probe to peer into the 52-foot-deep (15-meter-deep) cavity and found a vaulted space decorated with frescoes, niches and seashells. It is too early to say for sure whether the worship place known as "lupercale" — from "lupa," Latin for wolf — has been found, but Roman texts say that it was close to Augustus' palace and that the emperor had restored it, Iacopi said.

"It was a very important symbolic place and we believe that it was well-preserved," said Giovanna Tedone, an architect leading the work at the palace. Archaeologists are now looking for the grotto's entrance, she said.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Invading Romans' greatest obstacle uncovered in Jerusalem

The Jerusalem Post: "An immense bedrock cliff uncovered opposite Jerusalem's Temple Mount may help explain why it took the Romans so long to capture what is now known as the Jewish Quarter almost two millenia ago, an Israeli archeologist said Sunday.

The cliff, uncovered during a year-long excavation at the western edge of the Western Wall Plaza, was one of several important finds that include the remains of a colonnaded street called the Eastern Cardo, dating from the Roman-Byzantine period; a section of the Lower Aqueduct that conveyed water from Solomon's Pools to the Temple Mount; and a damaged rock-hewn and plastered Jewish mikve (ritual bath) that dates back to the Second Temple period, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced at a press conference.

The dig, which was conducted in an area that had not been excavated before due to plans for construction, also served to clarify the height of an immense bedrock cliff that separated the Upper City from the Temple Mount area. It in itself is "the most impressive" find, said Shlomit Wexler-Bedolah, the excavation director.

Wexler-Bedolah said the cliff's topography could help explain the slow Roman conquest, noting that it took the Roman army an entire month from the time they destroyed the Temple Mount on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av until they captured the ground of today's Jewish Quarter on the 10th day of the following month.

"This could have been a natural obstacle for the Roman army," she said.

Jerusalem regional archeologist Jon Seligman focused on the significance of the road that was uncovered at the foot of the cliff - an elaborate colonnaded street known as the Eastern Cardo.

The street, which began at the Damascus Gate, ran the length of the Tyropoeon Valley channel. Sections of the street had previously been uncovered in the northern part of the Old City, on Rehov Ha-Gai and west of the Dung Gate.

Wexler-Bedolah said the current excavation exposed for the first time the full 11-meter width of the original road, which had been paved in the Roman manner with large flagstones set in place diagonally, probably to prevent wagons from slipping. A drainage system had been installed below the flagstones, she said."

Sunday, January 14, 2007

‘Vomitoria’ discovery at Chester amphitheater suggest much larger complex

Groundbreaking research has revealed that Chester’s Roman amphitheatre was in fact a grand two-storey structure, similar to those found in parts of the Mediterranean, and was built on the foundations of a second, earlier theatre.

The excavations found eight ‘vomitoria’, or entrance points, spaced evenly around the amphitheatre with two in each of its quadrants. They would have been housed in internal staircases running outside the structure’s walls, indicating that it had two storeys.

“This is the only amphitheatre in Britain which has this feature,” said Dan Garner, Co-Director of the excavations at Chester. “It demonstrates the height of the seating and therefore gives us the height of this structure.”

The findings could change the way historians think about Roman Chester.

“There were clearly wealthy people living there,” said Dan. “The thing we can’t be sure about is if it was a purely military settlement or if it was a civilian town.”

Estimates put the seating capacity of the two-floor amphitheatre at between 8-10,000 spectators, suggesting the town could have had a substantial civilian population.

“Chester was maybe being groomed as a possible provincial capital for the conquest of Ireland,” suggested Dan.

The amphitheatre was built in the second century AD, most probably in the time of the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus, who reigned from 193 until his death while campaigning in York in 211AD.

It was discovered in 1929 and is the largest uncovered amphitheatre found in the UK. Finds like bowls with pictures of gladiators on them indicate the gory activities that took place at the amphitheatre.

The link with Septimus Severus provides a clue to its design – the Emperor was born in Leptis Magna in modern day Libya and many Roman amphitheatres in the region, at sites like El Djem in Tunisia, would have been very similar to Chester’s arena.

The excavations have also revealed a second amphitheatre built around 80-100AD upon which the later structure was built.

“The first one is a far more humble structure – similar to ones you got anywhere else in Britain," added Dan. "What we did find, though, was that it was furnished with an external staircase so although it was a far more simple design, it catered for spectators entering from the rear wall.”

Priceless' Roman find in farmer's field

"A RARE solid silver Roman bracelet unearthed in a farmer's field has been declared treasure trove.

The snake-shaped ornament could be the only one of its kind in the world, making it priceless, it was revealed at a Stockport coroner's hearing.

Archaeologist James Balme didn't even need his metal detector to make the discovery, gleaming in the soil in the field at Lymm near Warrington.

James said: "This is a very rare Roman solid silver snake bracelet, known as a zoomorphic bracelet, dating from the first to the second centuries. But what is really amazing is that it has been reworked in ancient times, possibly by the Saxons, who straightened the bracelet and pierced holes in it to use as a form of decoration or ornamentation.

"The actual bracelet is unique in its design and the attention to detail, especially the creature's head, is stunning.

"The head represents either a snake or possibly a sea serpent. There is little doubt that the bracelet would have been worn by a wealthy Roman citizen who lived in the area and could possibly be someone who was regarded as being of importance in the region."

"This could indicate that I am very close to what was once the site of an opulent Roman villa."

Pompeii's most popular brothel reopened to the public

POMPEII, Italy - "It was the jewel of Pompeii’s libertines: a brothel decorated with frescoes of erotic figures believed to be the most popular in the ancient Roman city.

The Lupanare — which derives its name from the Latin word “lupa,” or “prostitute” — was presented to the public again Thursday following a yearlong, $253,000 restoration to clean up its frescoes and fix the structure.

Pompeii was destroyed in A.D. 79 by a cataclysmic eruption of Mount Vesuvius that killed thousands of people — and buried the city in 20 feet of volcanic ash, preserving Pompeii for 1,600 years and providing precious information on what life was like in the ancient world.

The building was unearthed in 1862 and has undergone several restorations since, most recently in 1949, officials in Pompeii said. The latest restoration focused on fixing leaks in the building and restoring the frescoes, which had turned yellow and had faded in parts."
Although this article said the brothel was reopened after a year-long restoration, the building itself has been closed for quite a bit longer than that. When I was in Pompeii two years ago the brothel was closed to public access because of crumbling ceilings. I found it rather funny that there were tourists running around asking each other where the brothel was only to discover they could not go inside. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to finally see these "lascivious" frescoes when I return to Italy in a couple of years. I also didn't have time to visit Herculaneum or the Archaeological Museum which is really a must see.