Medieval Artifacts Uncovered in Iceland

Medieval Artifacts Uncovered in Iceland

Archaeologists in Seyðisfjörður have excavated jewellery that dates from 940 – 1100, just after the initial settlement of Iceland. Notably, one of the beads found in the excavation even bears the colours of the Icelandic national flag.

Remarkably well-preserved structures in Seyðisfjörður

Archaeological digs have been underway in Seyðisfjörður, a fishing village in the East Fjords of Iceland, since 2020. Due to the high slopes of the valley, Seyðisfjörður is subject to land slides, and local authorities plan to build defensive barriers to protect the village, which has suffered damage in recent years.

However, these same land slides have also preserved archaeological sites in the region particularly well.

Archaeologists have been called in to perform exploratory digs where the defensive barriers will be erected, and have found remarkably intact manmade structures and artefacts such as game pieces and pearls.

The most recent discoveries are centred around the farmstead where Bjólfur, a settler named in Landnámabók, is believed to have had his farmstead. Significant finds at this site have included the remains of a man, a horse, a spear, and a boat.

Archaeologists have been able to date the site with a fair amount of accuracy, given tephra layers from eruptions, and landslide layers.

A unique bead

The artefact that has generated the most interest by far has been a bead which coincidentally has the colours of the Icelandic flag: blue, white, and red.

Ragnheiður Traustadóttir, an archaeologist and director of the team, has stated to RÚV that the find has caused quite the stir on social media, even causing some to claim a more recent provenance.

However, Ragnheiður has stated that it is certainly from the period 940 – 1100, given that it was found under known tephra and land slide layers.

“It will be interesting to put this in context with the four mounds we dug up last year,” she said to RÚV. 

“There is a unique opportunity to look at the history of Seyðisfjörður from the second half of the tenth century until the eleventh century.”

Some twenty archaeologists are currently at work excavating in Seyðisfjörður. The field season is expected to last through the middle of August, and continue next year.

U.S. Repatriates Looted Artifacts to Cambodia

U.S. Repatriates Looted Artifacts to Cambodia

(This August story corrects the 6th paragraph to state that Douglas Latchford was a dual citizen of Thailand and the United Kingdom, not Thailand and the United States)

The United States will return to Cambodia 30 looted antiquities, including bronze and stone statues of Buddhist and Hindu deities carved more than 1,000 years ago, U.S. officials said on Monday.

The Southeast Asian country’s archaeological sites – including Koh Ker, the capital of the ancient Khmer empire – suffered widespread looting in civil conflicts between the 1960s and 1990s.

Cambodia’s government has since sought to repatriate stolen antiquities sold on the international market.

Damian Williams, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, said the items being returned were sold to Western buyers by Douglas Latchford, a Bangkok dealer who created fake documents to conceal that the items had been looted and smuggled.

Williams said the antiquities, including a 10th-century sandstone statue depicting the Hindu god of war Skanda riding on a peacock, were voluntarily relinquished by U.S. museums and private collectors after his office filed civil forfeiture claims.

U.S. Repatriates Looted Artifacts to Cambodia
Seized items are displayed during an announcement of the repatriation and return to Cambodia of 30 Cambodian antiquities sold to U.S. collectors and institutions by Douglas Latchford and seized by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., August 8, 2022.
A person looks at a seized 10th Century Khmer sandstone statue of Skanda on a Peacock following an announcement of the repatriation and return to Cambodia of 30 Cambodian antiquities sold to U.S. collectors and institutions by Douglas Latchford and seized by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., August 8, 2022.
A 10th-century Koh Ker-style sandstone sculpture of a Yaksha is prepared ahead of an announcement of the repatriation and return to Cambodia of 30 Cambodian antiquities sold to U.S. collectors and institutions by Douglas Latchford and seized by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., August 8, 2022.
Lee Satterfield, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. State Department delivers remarks as he stands with seized items during an announcement of the repatriation and return to Cambodia of 30 Cambodian antiquities sold to U.S. collectors and institutions by Douglas Latchford and seized by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., August 8, 2022.

“These statues and artefacts… are of extraordinary cultural value to the Cambodian people,” Williams said at a ceremony in Manhattan announcing the return of the antiquities.

U.S. prosecutors in 2019 charged Latchford, a dual citizen of Thailand and the United Kingdom, with wire fraud and smuggling over the alleged looting. He died in Thailand in 2020.

The antiquities will be displayed at the National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s U.S. ambassador Keo Chhea told Reuters at the ceremony.

In 2014, federal prosecutors returned the Duryodhana, a looted 10th-century sandstone sculpture, to Cambodia after settling with auction house Sotheby’s Inc, which had acquired it.

Last year, the Manhattan district attorney’s office returned 27 looted antiquities to Cambodia.

600-Year-Old Kitchen Discovered in the Czech Republic

600-Year-Old Kitchen Discovered in the Czech Republic

Archaeologists made an unusual discovery while excavating the ruins of a medieval house in the town of Nový Jičín in the Moravian-Silesian region – a well-preserved kitchen that likely dates back to the early 15th century.

The medieval kitchen, containing a brick oven, hearth, ceramic dishes and even a wooden cooking spoon, was uncovered by archaeologists during the ongoing excavation of a wooden house from the Middle Ages in the town of Nový Jičín.

Uniquely preserved medieval kitchen unearthed north of Moravia

Pavel Stabrava from the local Novojičín Museum, says that the find was made as archaeologists were excavating the underground segments of a house that stands near the northern side of the historic centre’s town walls.

“This was a log house built on a stone foundation. Given the surrounding evidence, including the items that we found inside, we have been able to date it roughly to the period of the early 15th century.”

Based on its location, Mr Stabrava believes that the house would most likely have belonged to a burgher family, a social class equivalent to the medieval bourgeoisie.

“Since the house was located near the town walls, this would have been a less wealthy burgher family. The richest burghers would have lived in so-called ‘beer court’ houses around the town square.”

Most likely founded in the 1300s by the Lords of Kravaře, Nový (New) Jičín seems to have gradually evolved from an earlier settlement around the castle of Starý (Old) Jičín which protected the nearby Amber Road that ran from Poland.

František Kolář from the National Heritage Institute, which took part in the dig, says that the town would probably have been largely made up of wooden houses, but admits that not much is known about the medieval settlement.

Photo: Pavel Stabrava, Muzeum Novojičínska Photo: Pavel Stabrava, Muzeum Novojičínska

“This is because there haven’t been many archaeological excavations in the historical centre of the city. This is one of the first that has been made and we hope that we will be able to continue with excavations as the historic houses in the city get renovated.”

The medieval kitchenware inside the house was found in perfect condition, with the unbroken ceramic pots still containing their original lids. It seems that the items had just been washed and left to dry on the stone hearth.

Based on the evident burn marks found within the excavated house and on the surrounding historical sources, Mr Kolář believes that the items were found in this state because the inhabitants may have been forced to abandon the house in a rush.

“The working hypothesis is that the house was destroyed during the conquest of the city by the Hussites in 1427, when Hussite forces campaigned in Moravia and Silesia. Several independent historical sources mention the siege and conquest of the town, including the massacre of some of its citizens.”

The artefacts are now in the process of conservation, after which they will be stored in the depositories of the Novojičín Museum.

Pavel Stabrava hopes that further planned excavations around the exterior of the house will reveal more about the medieval town and its inhabitants.

7,000-Year-Old Forest and Footprints Uncovered in the Atlantis of Britain

7,000-Year-Old Forest and Footprints Uncovered in the Atlantis of Britain

7,000-Year-Old Forest and Footprints Uncovered in the Atlantis of Britain

Ancient footprints, as well as prehistoric tree stumps and logs, have become visible along a 200-meter stretch of a coastline at Low Hauxley near Amble, Northumberland, in what is believed to be Doggerland, the Atlantis of Britain.

The Daily Mail reports that the forest existed in the late Mesolithic period. It began to form around 5,300 BC, and it was covered by the ocean three centuries later.

The studies proved that at the time, when the ancient forest existed, the sea level was much lower. It was a period when Britain had recently separated from the land of what is currently Denmark.

The forest consisted mostly of hazel, alder, and oak trees. Researchers believe the forest was part of Doggerland, an ancient stretch of land, which connected the UK and Europe.

Doggerland: Stone Age Atlantis of Britain

Located in the North Sea, Doggerland is believed to have once measured approximately 100,000 square miles (258998 square kilometres). However, the end of the Ice Age saw a great rise in the sea level and an increase in storms and flooding in the region, causing Doggerland to gradually shrink.

Doggerland sometimes called the Stone Age Atlantis of Britain or the prehistoric Garden of Eden, is an area archaeologists have been waiting to rediscover. Finally, modern technology has reached a level in which their dreams may become a reality.

Doggerland is thought to have been first inhabited around 10,000 BC, and innovative technology is expected to aid a new study in glimpsing what life was like for the prehistoric humans living in the region before the catastrophic floods covered the territory sometime between 8000 – 6000 BC.

The area, which would have been home to a range of animals, as well as the hunter gatherers which stalked them, became flooded due to glacial melt, with some high-lying regions such as ‘Dogger Island’ (pictured right, highlighted red) serving as clues to the regions ancient past.

Sunken Land Reveals its Secrets

The latest research was made by a group of archaeologists and volunteers led by a team from Archaeological Research Services Ltd, which previously performed some other projects related to the Northumberland.

The works were possible due to the lower level of water. The major excavations involved a total of 700 people and uncovered part of an Iron Age site dating from around 300 BC near Druidge Bay.

Doctor Clive Waddington, of Archaeology Research Services, said:

”In 5,000 BC the sea level rose quickly and it drowned the land. The sand dunes were blown back further into the land, burying the forest, and then the sea receded a little. The sea level is now rising again, cutting back the sand dunes, and uncovering the forest.”

Clive Waddington, project director of Archaeological Research Services Ltd at the prehistoric archaeological dig at Low Hauxley near Amble, Northumberland

Ancient Footprints

Waddington maintains that his team also discovered evidence of humans living nearby. They found footprints of adults and children. Due to the results of the analysis of the footprints, it is believed that they wore leather shoes.  Animal footprints of wild boar, brown bears and red deer also had been found.

Fossilized Forests

The remains of the forest of Doggerland do not belong to the oldest known forest. The oldest fossilized forest was discovered by a team from Binghamton University in the town of Gilboa in upstate New York.

The Gilboa area has been known as a tree fossil location since the late 19th century. However, the first researchers arrived there in the 1920s.

The most recent research started in 2004, when Linda VanAller Hernick, palaeontology collection manager, and Frank Mannolini, palaeontology collection technician, uncovered more intact specimens.

According to the article published in 2012 by William Stein, associate professor of biological sciences at Binghamton, the fossils discovered in this area are between 370 to 380 million years old.

See the 5,000-year-old forest unearthed by storms:

The mummified face of Pharaoh Seti I hailed for its superior preservation

The mummified face of Pharaoh Seti I hailed for its superior preservation

The mummified face of Menmaatre Seti I known as Sety I of the New Kingdom’s Nineteenth Dynasty pleasantly surprised Egyptologists with its superior preservation. His face is regarded as one of the best preserved in the world as well as in Ancient Egypt’s annals.

The mummified face of Pharaoh Seti I hailed for its superior preservation
The mummified face of Pharoah Seti I.

Dying about 3,298 years ago, Seti I is reckoned to have ruled when Egypt was at one of its most affluent peaks from 1290 to 1279 BCE. He was the father to perhaps ancient Egypt’s most beloved pharaoh Ramesses II. His father, Ramses I, reigned for only two years.

The tomb of this extremely powerful and handsome ruler was brought to the world’s attention by the rebellious researcher Giovanni Battista Belzoni on October 16, 1817.

The tomb located in the Valley of the Kings, known as KV17, is the longest tomb in the entire necropolis. It’s about 137 meters (449 ft.).

Seti’s mummified body was neatly prepared and covered with a yellow shroud. However, tomb looters had messed with his bandages and smashed his abdomen. Worse still, Seti’s head was separated from the rest of his battered body.

Fortunately, his face remained untouched. Now, the remains of Seti I rest among other royal mummies in the Cairo museum.

In the early years of his reign, Seti led his army northward to restore Egyptian prestige, which had been partly lost during the troubled years of the late 18th dynasty under Akhenaton.

He battled in northern Palestine and Syria and fought at least one battle with the Hittite king Muwatallis; he subsequently concluded a peace treaty that may have established the frontier at Kadesh on the Orontes River between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountains.

Mummy of Pharaoh Seti I.

Seti in his 11 or 15-year rule did much to promote the prosperity of Egypt. He fortified the frontier, opened mines and quarries, dug wells, and rebuilt temples and shrines that had fallen into decay or been damaged; and he continued the work begun by his father on the construction of the great hypostyle hall at Karnak, which is one of the most impressive monuments of Egyptian architecture.

Another important work is his memorial temple at Abydos, which he dedicated to Osiris and six other deities of which much of the original colour remains.

Seti’s tomb is the finest in the Valley of the Kings in western Thebes.

Although his son Ramses II is more famous, Seti is thought by many scholars to have been the greatest king of the 19th dynasty.

Holding hands for 5,000 years, a couple with mysterious jade rings and dagger

Holding hands for 5,000 years, a couple with mysterious jade rings and dagger

Bronze Age burial near Lake Baikal intrigues archaeologists who have not yet revealed the contents of the leather pouch between man’s kneecaps.

Holding hands for 5,000 years, a couple with mysterious jade rings and dagger
The man’s skeleton had a ring made of rare white jade over one eye socket.

Experts speculate that this ancient couple is an elderly man and his wife or concubine, buried for eternity in a show of affection. There are some unique aspects to the couple who are believed to be from the Bronze Age Glazkov culture.

The man’s skeleton had a ring made of rare white jade over one eye socket. Three more were on his chest. Archaeologist Dr Dmitry Kichigin said: ‘It was probably somehow connected with their ideas about the afterlife.’

Samples of the bone of the couple have been sent to Canada for radiocarbon analysis, but the Russian team involved in the excavations believe the couple to be 4,500 to 5,000 years old. 

The site is a sacred burial place since Neolithic times overlooking the waters of Lake Baikal, the oldest and deepest lake in the world.

‘In the grave we found male and female skeletons, lying on their backs, heads to the west, hand in hand,’ he said. The site is a sacred burial place since Neolithic times overlooking the waters of Lake Baikal, the oldest and deepest lake in the world.

The male skeleton is complete but rodents destroyed the upper part of the female. Near the woman was a ‘massive’ knife made of jade, some 13 centimetres in length and 7 cm in width. 

Pendants of red deer and musk deer teeth were found on the male skull, and around the feet. Most likely, they decorated the hat and footwear.

‘Were they relatives, or an owner and his concubine?’ asked the archaeologist. For now, the answer is unclear: he would like to conduct DNA tests to check if the pair were related, but this appears to be too expensive.

The burial unearthed this summer is located at a cape on Maloe More, the strait that separates the mainland and the Olkhon island, close to Chernorud settlement, some 260 kilometres north-east of Irkutsk. 

The precise location is being kept secret, for now, to avoid amateur diggers wrecking a site which is likely to contain more burials, possibly older than this one. 

‘We were lucky to find at least one skeleton in excellent condition, with implements and decorations – it is the dream of many archaeologists,’ said Kichigin. ‘It would be very interesting to find out the purposes the massive jade knife, which we found near the woman, was used for. 

‘We also found some metal implement in a small leather bag between male’s kneecaps.’ The analysis will begin with the finds in the autumn. 

‘The cape, where we conducted excavations, was obviously a sacred place for ancient people,’ he said. It was not a settlement but used for religious rites and as a graveyard from ancient times.

‘We can expect a lot of interesting discoveries on this archaeological site, so we plan to continue our work next year.’ 

The archaeological team led by Dr Kichigan is from Irkutsk National Research Technical University, with the assistance of Yuliana Yemelyanova, from the Laboratory of Archeology, Paleoecology, and Life Support Systems of the Peoples of North Asia.

The burial unearthed this summer is located at a cape on Maloe More, the strait that separates the mainland and the Olkhon island, close to Chernorud settlement.

Why ancient Romans used sketchy, lopsided dice to gamble and play board games

Why ancient Romans used sketchy, lopsided dice to gamble and play board games

Why ancient Romans used sketchy, lopsided dice to gamble and play board games
A tessera or a Roman six-sided die from the Vidy Roman  Museum Rama

People have been rolling dice for a long, long time. The first dice were made from sheep knucklebones more than 5,000 years ago in ancient Sumer, and you won if it landed on the right one of the four flat sides. Around 3,000 years ago, somebody from modern-day Iraq and Iran sculpted bits of wood and ivory into the familiar six-sided dice, with different numbers of spots on each side from one to six.

People all over the world adopted this configuration long before Arabic numerals were invented. But few people of the ancient world loved to play dice as much as the Romans did.

The Romans called their 6-sided dice tesserae, and they often used them to move the pieces on a game board or for gambling, with the highest number providing the win. Since hard cash was on the line, one would expect these dice to be “fair”, or equally likely to land on any of their six sides.

However, most of them were actually lopsided, with some sides obviously much larger than others, making them more likely to land on them. These Roman-era dice were a total mess when it came to their shape, with no two sides shaped entirely alike.

Why would the Romans make their dice so asymmetrical? It’s not like the builders of great aqueducts and roads weren’t capable of carving a uniform cube, after all.

At first glance, it would seem like tesserae was made this way as a form of cheating, in order to increase the probability of showing a certain side. The vast majority of Roman dice were biased towards the numbers one and six. However, this doesn’t explain why virtually all Roman dice were designed this way. Did all the players cheat? The games would have collapsed if that were the case, and people would stop using them if cheating was done on purpose. This all suggests that the lumpy and lopsided design is a feature, not a bug.

The die has been cast — and that is the will of the gods

In a new study, archaeologist Jelmer Eerkens, a professor of anthropology at the University of California Davis, and Alex de Voogt, a professor at the department of economics and business of Drew University in New Jersey, present a different perspective: the asymmetrical features of the dice were related to the way the ancient Romans viewed the role of fate and the gods in the world.

Ancient Roman asymmetrical dice were found in the Netherlands.

In a previous study, the two researchers showed that over 90% of Roman dice found in the archaeological record are visibly asymmetrical, meaning one of their sides differs in size from the others by at least 5%. In their new work, the pair of scientists analyzed a sample of 28 dice from the Roman era excavated in the Netherlands. Unsurprisingly, 24 of the 28 objects made from clay, metal, and bone were visibly asymmetrical.

The larger the difference in size between the six sides of a dice, the greater the odds of rolling the number opposite the side with the largest surface area. In a perfect cube, there should be a 1 in 6 chance of rolling any number, but the odds of landing on the largest side of a Roman dice could be as high as 1 in 2.4. Surely, these kinds of visible biases couldn’t have been missed, especially by the hardcore gamblers playing for hours at end in Rome’s slums.

To get a better understanding of what the ancient Romans were thinking when they made their lopsided dice, Eerkens and de Voogt enlisted 23 psychology majors for an experiment.

Like today, Roman dice were numbered in the ‘sevens’ configuration, meaning the pips (little holes or divots) on opposite sides to each other add up to the number 7, so 1 is opposite to 6, 2 is opposite to 5, and 3 is opposite to 4.

The students were handed reproductions of Roman dice and were asked to place pips on the sides. Other than having to respect the sevens configuration, the participants were given no further instructions and were virtually oblivious to the purpose of the experiment.

Most of the students placed the one and six pips on the largest opposing surfaces of the lopsided dice — that’s exactly how the Romans chose to number their dice. Since both ancient Romans and modern students with no interest in gambling placed pips in locations that favour a one or six suggests both groups involuntarily chose this configuration, rather than making a conscious effort to cheat and stack the odds in their favour.

When asked about what prompted them to place the pips the way they had, the students said it felt natural to place one and six on the largest sides, especially since six requires the most pips to place.

This experiment suggests that the Romans didn’t actually care that much for ‘fair’ odds, perhaps because they did not grasp the concept of probability. Instead, the ancient Romans put all their fate in the gods like Fortuna, the personification of luck. Since gods and fate played such a central role in the lives of these people, any side that rolled on the dice was the ‘right’ side — the one chosen by the gods. Of course, some experienced gamblers may have noticed the bias and used it to their advantage, but the unfair odds were likely not common knowledge at the time.

“Knowing that it makes sense that Romans probably did not think that die shape mattered because even with a non-cubic die all sides can still be thrown,” Eerkens told Haaretz. “Today we would say that, yes, each side can be thrown but with unequal probabilities – however, most people in Roman times probably would not understand that way of thinking.”

Such thinking may have persisted until well into the Middle Ages. It wasn’t until the Renaissance period that we start seeing perfectly fair cube-shaped dice, and it is perhaps no coincidence that around this time great thinkers like Galileo Galilei or Blaise Pascal were publishing papers about chance and probability, in some cases, they were actually consulting with local gamblers. These new ideas about fairness, chance, and mathematical probability may have spread among the ‘gamers’ of the time and finally led to fairer dice.

The new findings appeared in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.

Colonial-Period Burials Found on Ancient Temple in Peru

Colonial-Period Burials Found on Ancient Temple in Peru

A team of Peruvian archaeologists uncovered three burials from the Spanish colonial period on top of a pre-Hispanic temple, which may be up to 500 years old, a researcher said Thursday.

Colonial-Period Burials Found on Ancient Temple in Peru
A team of Peruvian archaeologists uncovered three burials from the Spanish colonial period on top of a pre-Hispanic temple

Peru was under Spanish rule for nearly 300 years, from 1532 when they invaded and defeated the Inca empire until 1821 when popular uprisings led to independence. 

“We are working with the hypothesis that the remains belong to a colonial cemetery,” Lucenida Carrion, head of the Archaeology Directorate of the Park of Legends in the Peruvian capital, told AFP. 

The park’s 54 archaeological monuments and sanctuaries have been the subject of study for decades. 

“In this summit, we have discovered the burials of two adults and a child who were wrapped in cotton cloth,” the archaeologist added. 

The temple, or pre-Hispanic sanctuary known as “Tres Palos” where the burial site is located, is more than 1,000 years old and is located on land adjacent to the park.  

After the pre-Hispanic era, the site was inhabited by settlers from colonial Lima.

“We are considering whether the remains are from the colonial era,” Carrion said, pointing to the clothes, hair and a Christian crucifix found on one of the remains.  

“This finding is important because it will help us determine if there has been a continuous occupation at this site since pre-Hispanic times.”  

During the 15th and 16th centuries, the “Tres Palos” sanctuary was used by the Incas as a Tambo (food deposit) and during the colonial era, adobe (mud and straw) houses were built. 

– Wooden cross –

“What stands out is the cross carried on the chest of one character. This cross indicates the moment of transformation to Christianity of the natives or inhabitants that populated this place,” Carrion said. 

Other than the brown wooden cross, sandals, textile fragments, bracelets, funeral mantles and the remains of ceramic vessels were also discovered. 

The archaeological team’s findings are among the most important in recent years and add to the study of numerous material testimonies uncovered inside the archaeological complex of Maranga, located near the coast of Lima. 

“The works carried out in the place allow us to establish that its history dates back approximately 2,000 years and that they were occupied by the Lima culture, the Ychsma and finally the Incas,” Carrion said. 

The Park of Legends, built in 1964, is named after the pre-Hispanic legends illustrated at the entrance of the enclosure. 

In 2018, a team of archaeologists found a 1,300-year-old cemetery from the pre-Hispanic Lima culture near the park. 

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