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Hoard of silver coins may have been part of historic ransom to save Paris

Hoard of silver coins may have been part of the historic ransom to save Paris

A hoard of silver coins minted in the Carolingian Empire about 1,200 years ago has been unearthed in northeastern Poland and may have been part of a historic ransom to save Paris from a Viking invasion.

Hoard of silver coins may have been part of the historic ransom to save Paris
Only three coins of this type have ever been found before in Poland, which was well beyond the Carolingian realms. Archaeologists suspect they are linked to the Scandinavian trading emporium at Truso.

It’s the first time anyone has found so many Carolingian coins in Poland. Only three such coins — of a distinctive style with Latin inscriptions and a central crucifix — have been found in the country before now.

The Carolingian Empire was founded by the Frankish king Charlemagne — Charles the Great — and spanned much of modern France, Germany, Switzerland and northern Italy in the eighth and ninth centuries. 

Archaeologists think the newfound coins may have come from the Viking trading town of Truso, which was then located near the Baltic coast about 60 miles (100 kilometres) west of the farmer’s field where they were found.

And if the coins did come from Truso, it’s possible that they were part of an immense ransom of gold and silver paid by a Carolingian king to prevent invading Vikings from sacking the city of Paris.

“If a larger number of the coins can be attributed to Paris, then yes, it is possible — and some have already been attributed to Paris,” said Mateusz Bogucki, an archaeologist and coin expert at the University of Warsaw in Poland. But “it is way too early to give such an interpretation,” he told Live Science.

Regardless, the distinctiveness of the coins raises interesting questions about their origins, Bogucki said. At the time the hoard was hidden or lost, the first medieval Polish kingdom had yet to be established, and the Slavic tribes in the region used mainly Arabian silver dirhams paid in exchange for slaves by traders from the Muslim caliphate, based in Baghdad far to the south.

A total of 118 of the Carolingian silver coins, about 1,200 years old, were unearthed in a farmer’s field near the town of Biskupiec in north-east Poland.

Carolingian coins

Metal detectorists discovered the first handful of the coin hoard in November 2020, in a field near the town of Biskupiec.

The finders, who had permission from the provincial government for their activities, stopped any further searching and kept the location secret until experts from the nearby Museum of Ostróda could investigate the find.

By March 2021, archaeologist Luke Szczepanski and his team had unearthed a total of 118 coins from the field — 117 of them minted during the reign of the Carolingian emperor Louis the Pious, who ruled from A.D. 814 until 840, and one coin minted during the reign of his son Charles the Bald, who ruled until A.D. 877.

Such coins are extremely rare in Poland, which was well beyond the lands ruled by the Carolingian dynasty. The only three Carolingian coins previously unearthed were found at the archaeological site at Truso, which had been established by Norse traders by the eighth century and was famous for its trade in amber, furs and slaves.

It seems likely that the owner of the hoard of coins found near Biskupiec had obtained them in Truso, Bogucki said, but there is a possibility that they had come from somewhere else and were being taken to Truso for trading. The coins have no marks that show exactly where and when they were minted, but researchers can learn more about their origins by studying characteristics like the shapes of the letters in their Latin inscriptions, he said.

Only three coins of this type have ever been found before in Poland, which was well beyond the Carolingian realms. Archaeologists suspect they are linked to the Scandinavian trading emporium at Truso.

Viking shakedown

The archaeologists aren’t sure how the hoard of silver coins came to be hidden or lost near Biskupiec. The region was probably an uninhabited wilderness at the time, and archaeologists have not found any traces of a nearby settlement, Szczepanski told Science in Poland.

One intriguing possibility, however, is that the coins came from Truso and that they were originally part of a ransom paid by the Carolingian king Charles the Bald to Vikings threatening Paris, his capital city.

Norse raiders frequently attacked the Frankish heartlands of the Carolingian Empire — today’s northern France and western Germany — after the late eighth century. Historical records compiled by monks suggest that in A.D. 845 a large fleet of Viking ships sailed up the Seine and laid siege to Paris, then located on an island in the river.

Charles the Bald reportedly paid the invaders 7,000 livres, or more than 5 tons of silver and gold, to prevent them from sacking the city, Bogucki said, and it’s possible that some of the coins found near Biskupiec were part of that ransom.

Charlemagne was King of the Franks in the late eighth century when his armies conquered most of western Europe. He was crowned Emperor of the Romans by the pope in Rome in A.D. 800; his rule and those of his dynasty are known as the Carolingian Empire, which later became Europe’s Holy Roman Empire. Charlemagne’s son Louis the Pious succeeded him as emperor in 814, and the empire was divided among Louis’ sons in 840. 

Charles the Bald, one of Louis’ sons, ruled the western kingdoms and became the Carolingian emperor in 875. Portrayals from the time show him with a full head of hair; historians speculate that he may, in fact, have been very hairy and that the nickname was used ironically, or that his “baldness” referred to his initial lack of lands compared with those of his brothers.

DNA Analysis Reunites Viking Relatives 1,000 Years Later

DNA Analysis Reunites Viking Relatives 1,000 Years Later

The AFP reports that DNA analysis has linked the remains of two men who died some 1,000 years ago.

Separated for 1,000 years, two Viking warriors from the same family were reunited on Wednesday at Denmark’s National Museum, as DNA analysis helps shed light on the Vikings’ movements across Europe.

One of the Vikings died in England in his 20s in the 11th century, from injuries to the head. He was buried in a mass grave in Oxford. 

The two related Viking skeletons in Denmark’s National Museum

The other died in Denmark in his 50s, his skeleton bearing traces of blows that suggest he took part in battles.

DNA mapping of skeletons from the Viking era — from the eighth to the 12th century — enabled archaeologists to determine by chance that the two were related.

“This is a big discovery because now you can trace movements across space and time through a family,” museum archaeologist Jeanette Varberg told AFP.

Two of her colleagues spent more than two hours on Wednesday piecing together the skeleton of the man in his 20s, from the remains freshly arrived from Oxford.

The 150 bones have been lent to the Danish museum by the Oxfordshire Museum in Britain for three years.

The historical consensus is that Danish Vikings invaded Scotland and England from the late eighth century.

The younger of the two men “may have been cut down in a Viking raid, but there is also a theory that they (the skeletons in the mass grave) were victims of a royal decree by English King Ethelred the Second, who commanded in 1002 that all Danes in England should be killed,” Varberg said.

It is very rare to find skeletons that are related, though it is easier to determine the relationships for royals, according to Varberg.

While the two were confirmed to be relatives, it is impossible to determine their exact link.

They may have been half-brothers, or a grandfather and grandson, or an uncle and nephew.

“It’s very difficult to tell if they lived in the same age or they differ maybe by a generation because you have no material in the grave that can give a precise dating. So you have a margin of 50 years plus or minus,” Varberg said.

Is This 400,000-Year-Old Hominin the Great Grandpa of Neanderthals?

Is This 400,000-Year-Old Hominin the Great Grandpa of Neanderthals?

According to new research, a 400,000-year-old hominid skull contains a few telltale features that imply it’s more of a Neanderthal than a Homo sapiens relation, a new study finds.

Is This 400,000-Year-Old Hominin the Great Grandpa of Neanderthals?
The hominin cranium, nicknamed “Aroeira 3,” that researchers found in a Portuguese cave.

The cranium, discovered in a Portuguese cave, is helping anthropologists understand how hominins, particularly Neanderthals, evolved during the middle Pleistocene epoch in Europe, the researchers said.

The team isn’t sure whether the skull belongs to a newfound species of hominin, but noted that the skull appeared “broadly ancestral” to the Neanderthals, said study co-researcher Rolf Quam, an associate professor of biological anthropology at Binghamton University in New York.

In addition, the scientists unearthed hand axes in the cave, a stone-crafted technology that was likely developed in the Middle East about 500,000 years ago.

Thanks to the excavations, researchers now have proof that this technology spread as far west as Portugal within 100,000 years of being developed in the Middle East, Quam said. 

Acheulean hand axes discovered at the Aroeira site in Portugal

Prize find

Researchers found the skull on the last day of their field season in 2014. During previous fieldwork at the Gruta da Aroeira cave from 1998 to 2002, researchers found human teeth, animal remains and stone-made hand axes. But the latest discovery, the skull, was the excavation’s prize find, Quam said.

The team discovered the cranium in the back of the cave, buried in petrified sediment.

“The archaeologists, when they found it, weren’t sure how to get it out,” Quam told Live Science. “They basically had to use a circular saw to cut out a huge block chunk that included the skull.”

The researchers brought the block to a restoration laboratory in Madrid, and a fossil preparator spent 2.5 years extracting the skull.

“That is an incredible amount of labor to get this thing out,” Quam said.

Once they freed the skull, the researchers put it in computed tomography (CT) scanner, which allowed them to create a 3D virtual reconstruction of the bone.

“The skull is only half a skull,” Quam said. “With the CT scans, we were able to mirror-image it and make the other half, so it’s more complete now.”

A virtual reconstruction of the 400,000-year-old hominin skull

Neanderthal-like features

The skull, nicknamed the “Aroeira cranium” after the Portuguese cave in which the item was found, is the oldest hominin fossil ever discovered in Portugal, Quam said. (A hominin is a group that includes modern humans and their recent ancestors, including Neanderthals, Homo erectus, Homo habilis and several species of Australopithecus.)

With a cranial capacity of more than 67 cubic inches (1,100 cubic centimeters), the Aroeira skull is about the same size as other hominin skulls found from that time period.

Modern humans have larger cranial capacities, of about 79 cubic inches (1,300 cubic cm), according to the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University, which was not involved with the new study.

Interestingly, the Aroeira cranium has Neanderthal-like features, Quam said. Those include a Neanderthal-shaped brow and a bony projection behind the ear, known as a mastoid process, which is small like a Neanderthal’s, Quam said.

However, the Aroeira individual lived long before the Neanderthals, which existed from about 200,000 years ago to 40,000 years ago, when they went extinct. Still, the skull “can help us understand the origin and evolution of Neanderthals better,” Quam said. “The fact that it is so well-dated is critical because that’s going to help us think about the evolutionary process — what changed first” as Neanderthals emerged on Earth.

Israel discovers 7,000-year-old seal impression

Israel discovers 7,000-year-old seal impression

Israeli archaeologists unveiled a 7,000-year-old clay seal impression used for commerce and protection of property, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) said.

Israel discovers 7,000-year-old seal impression

A team of archaeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) made a rare discovery when they unearthed a small clay seal impression dating back some 7,000 years.

The impression, with two different geometric stamps imprinted on it, was discovered in Tel Tsaf, a prehistoric village located in Israel’s Beit She’an Valley in the country’s north.

The finding was uncovered as part of an excavation headed by HU’s Professor Yosef Garfinkel and two of his students, Professor David Ben Shlomo and Dr Michael Freikman, both of whom are currently researchers at Ariel University, between 2004 and 2007.

One hundred and fifty clay sealings were originally found at the site, with one being particularly rare and of distinct, historic importance. The object was published in the journal the Levant.

Sealings, also known as bulla, are little pieces of clay that were used in ancient times to seal and sign texts, preventing others from reading their contents.

The sealing discovered at Tel Tsaf is important because it is the first indication of the employment of seals to identify shipments or shutter silos or barns. When a barn door was opened, its seal impression would break – a telltale sign that someone had been there and that the contents inside had been touched or taken.

Tel Tsaf seal and a modern impression.

“Even today, similar types of sealing are used to prevent tampering and theft,” explained Garfinkel. “It turns out that this was already in use 7,000 years ago by landowners and local administrators to protect their property.”

The shard, which was less than a millimetre across, was discovered in excellent condition due to the dry environment of the Beit She’an valley. Symmetrical lines denote the sealing.

While many sealings discovered in the First Temple Jerusalem (about 2,600 years ago) incorporate a personal name and occasionally biblical figures, the sealing from Tel Tsaf dates from a time before writing was invented.

Instead of lettering, their seals were embellished with geometric designs. The presence of two separate stamps on the seal imprint may suggest a type of business operation in which two separate persons were participating.

The found fragment underwent extensive analysis before researchers could determine that it was indeed a seal impression.

According to Garfinkel, this is the earliest evidence that seals were used in Israel approximately 7,000 years ago to sign deliveries and keep store rooms closed. While seals have been found in that region dating back to 8,500 years ago, seal impressions from that time have not been found.

Based on a careful scientific analysis of the sealing’s clay, the researchers found it wasn’t locally sourced but came from a location at least ten kilometres away. Other archaeological finds at the site reveal evidence that the Tel Tsaf residents were in contact with populations far beyond ancient Israel.

“At this very site we have evidence of contact with peoples from Mesopotamia, Turkey, Egypt and Caucasia,” Garfinkel added. “There is no prehistoric site anywhere in the Middle East that reveals evidence of such long-distance trade in exotic items as what we found at this particular site.”

The site also yielded clues that the area was home to people of considerable wealth who built up large stores of ingredients and materials, indicating considerable social development.

This evidence points to Tel Tsaf as having been a key position in the region that served both local communities and people passing through.

“We hope that continued excavations at Tel Tsaf and other places from the same time period will yield additional evidence to help us understand the impact of a regional authority in the southern Levant,” concluded Garfinkel.

Preserved in poop: 1,000-year-old chicken egg found in Israel

Preserved in poop: 1,000-year-old chicken egg found in Israel

Archaeologists discover an almost fully intact but nearly empty egg and three rare Islamic-period bone dolls in the excavation of settlement dating from the Byzantine period.

Preserved in poop: 1,000-year-old chicken egg found in Israel
Israel Antiquities Authority discovered a fully intact 1,000-year-old chicken egg

During recent digs in the central village of Yavne, archaeologists unearthed an exceedingly unusual, almost fully intact 1,000-year-old chicken egg, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The unexpected discovery was made during an IAA salvage excavation of a historic cesspit going back to the Islamic period, which was carried out ahead of a new neighbourhood construction.

Archaeologists were astounded to uncover a fragile ancient chicken egg that had been perfectly preserved a millennium ago by being originally pillowed in soft human dung within a cesspit, according to an IAA news statement.

“The egg’s unique preservation is evidently due to the conditions in which it lay for centuries, nestled in a cesspit containing soft human waste that preserved it,” IAA archaeologist Alla Nagorsky, the site’s excavation director, said. “Even today, eggs rarely survive for long in supermarket cartons. It’s amazing to think this is a 1,000-year-old find!”

Since the shell was slightly cracked, most of its contents leaked out, but part of the yoke was still inside, which will allow further analysis in the future.

The egg from the excavation

Chicken has been raised in Israel for consumption of eggs and meat for some 2,300 years since the Hellenist period and early Roman period.

Bone assemblages in the land indicate that from the 7th century when the Islamic period began, pork consumption drastically decreased compared to previous centuries.

Three 1,000-year-old Islamic-period bone dolls from the cesspit in Yavne

“Families needed a ready protein substitute that does not require cooling and preservation, and they found it in eggs and chicken meat,” Perry Gal said.

The egg further cracked when it was removed from the site, but was restored to its original state in the IAA organics lab.

The cesspit also contained some other objects, including three bone dolls from the same period.

Ancient Necropolis Found on Croatian Island

Ancient Necropolis Found on Croatian Island

The protective investigation in the garden of the Radoevi Palace in the town of Hvar on the Croatian island of the same name has been concluded after two months of intensive archaeological labour.

The research, which was spurred by the upcoming construction of the new Hvar City Library and Reading Room, has resulted in a spectacular discovery.

According to preliminary results, a late antiquity necropolis from the second half of the 4th and the beginning of the 5th century was found, as well as the eastern branch of the ramparts of a late antique settlement with a city gate dating to the end of the 5th century.

On an area of 65 square meters, 20 graves with osteological remains of 32 people were discovered.

The basic types of late antiquity tombs included: simple tombs in earthenware, tombs in amphorae, tomb structures made of roof tiles, as well as one masonry tomb in which 12 skeletons were found. 

What particularly emphasises this necropolis is its exceptional preservation, as well as the very valuable and complete grave, finds, Kantharos reported.

Most of the tombs were decorated with one or more ceramic jugs and lamps, glass bottles and vessels, money and other small utensils. 

Preliminary analysis of these findings provided a preliminary dating of the necropolis itself but also hinted at completely new insights into local/regional late antique ceramic production as well as trade links, through documented imports, some of which were first recorded in the Adriatic.

Just before the end of the research, an older ancient wall was found in the deepest layers, which according to the African sigilate is preliminarily dated to the 2nd century.

Of all the traces of late antique life found in Hvar so far, this is really the most significant and richest site, which vividly shows all the archaeological splendour of grave finds and gives us, for now, the most detailed insight into funeral customs of that period, but also new knowledge about urbanism, Dalmacija Danas said.

The expert team consisted of Eduard Viskovic, Joško Barbarić, Marko Bibić, and Jure Tudor, with the scientific assistance of dr. sc. Marina Ugarković, Ph.D. Josip Baraka Perica.

Mexico analyzes bones and objects from 1,400 years ago found in Michoacán

Mexico analyzes bones and objects from 1,400 years ago found in Michoacán

The skeletal remains of a woman and 19,428 associated objects, found in 2011 in the archaeological zone of Tingambato, in the western state of Michoacán, were analyzed by researchers from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), who pointed out that its antiquity dates back to 630 AD.

Mexico analyzes bones and objects from 1,400 years ago found in Michoacán
Intentional cultural modifications to the skull and teeth of the young woman found in Tomb II at Tingambato

In a statement, it was explained that the skeletal remains of the woman were found inside a burial chamber “built five meters deep, with strong stone walls and a vaulted ceiling of slabs in a spiral direction, where she was buried with a rich trousseau made up of 19,428 shell and lapidary objects “.

The archaeologist José Luis Punzo Díaz, a researcher at the INAH Michoacán Center, indicated that the results revealed the significance of this burial and of the inhumed character, placing it “as one of the most important archaeology in western Mexico, particularly Michoacán.”

Osteological and ancient DNA analysis confirmed that the skeletal remains deposited in Tomb II of the aforementioned archaeological zone belonged to a young woman between 16 and 19 years old and its antiquity dates back to 630 AD.

This according to the radiocarbon collagen analysis done at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), whose data coincides with the stage of greatest growth of Tingambato, from 550 to 850 AD, said Alejandro Valdés Herrera, a member of the research project.

Analysis of the skeletal remains with computerized axial tomography

Due to the fragmentation and poor preservation conditions of the skull, a careful reconstruction was made in the Laboratory of Physical Anthropology of the INAH-Michoacán Center, where it was discovered that it presented cephalic deformation, as well as dental modification work.

“Although these modifications were recurrent in his time, they are associated with certain groups in society, which leads us to think that he was part of the local elite,” explained Valdés Herrera.

While when analyzing his teeth, they observed that the modifications were not worn or showed evidence of use, so they could have been carried out at a time close to his death.

The studies of the materials, which began in 2016, also determined various paleopathologies, which indicate that he suffered periods of illness such as fever and a mild degree of malnutrition, although they do not appear to be the cause of death, which is still unknown.

When analyzing 18,601 elements made with seashells, it was determined that most of the beads and earrings are of the Spondylus princeps species, from the Pacific, peculiar for its orange hue, which was highly appreciated by ancient cultures.

About the 827 lapidary elements, the specialists highlighted that most of the greenstone beads correspond to a mineral called amazonite, whose origin is not yet specified, but important veins are known in the state of Chihuahua.

Lapidary from the grave goods, identified by archaeometric analysis as mostly Amazonite,

According to studies, Tingambato was a privileged site due to its location, at the entrance to Tierra Caliente and the cold mountain range of Michoacán, which arose in the year 0 and had a constant occupation until 900 AD.

Digital reconstruction of the grave goods, Tomb II of Tingambato
Digital reconstruction of the burial in Tomb II of Tingambato

‘Exceptionally high’ number of decapitated bodies found at Roman burial site

‘Exceptionally high’ number of decapitated bodies found at Roman burial site

'Exceptionally high' number of decapitated bodies found at Roman burial site
One of the decapitated skeletons found at Knobb’s Farm.

Ancient Romans left an enduring mark on present-day Britain. Crumbling stone walls across the island speak to their once-vast empire. But a cemetery uncovered in Cambridgeshire highlights another legacy of Roman rule — its brutality. Here, archaeologists discovered a high number of decapitated skeletons, likely belonging to people who somehow offended their conquerers.

Archaeologists from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit made the discovery at Knobb’s Farm in Cambridgeshire, some 70 miles north of London. There, between 2001 and 2010, they unearthed three Roman-era cemeteries from the third century.

But these cemeteries stood out. Of the 52 burials, 17 were decapitated, and 13 were buried face down. And now, researchers are pointing out the significance of the macabre site.

“Knobb’s Farm has an exceptionally high proportion of decapitated bodies and prone burials (33 per cent and 25 per cent) when compared with burial grounds locally and across Roman Britain,” noted a study published in the journal Britannica in May 2021.

The people buried at Knobb’s Farm also seemed to have died violent deaths. Isabel Lisboa, the archaeologist who led the excavations, noted that they were likely alive when beheaded.

A graphic showing that this skeleton was hit with a “blow was directed obliquely downwards from behind and to the left,” indicating that he was kneeling when he died.

Some of the skeletons even bore marks of more extreme violence. One man had several deep cuts in the back of his skull, suggesting that someone had subdued him with a sword before chopping off his head. And one woman’s skeleton bore cut marks on her face, arms, and legs.

“It is not possible to distinguish whether [her injuries] were made immediately before death (resulting from, for example, torture or flaying) or after death (for example, from corpse mutilation, post-mortem ‘punishment’ or ritual de-fleshing of the body),” noted the study.

So why does Knobb’s Farm contain so many beheaded skeletons? It likely has to do with both the age of the skeletons and their location.

Some decapitated skeletons had their skulls placed at their feet, perhaps to keep their spirits from rising.

For 400 years — until about 410 A.D. — the Roman Empire ruled over present-day England. But their grip on power started to slip in the third century. As a result, anyone who dared defy the Romans could face extreme punishment.

“Any hint of insurrection against the Roman state would’ve been dealt with extremely violently,” explained Chris Gosden, a professor of European archaeology at the University of Oxford.

Indeed, the number of crimes in Britain that Romans felt worthy of the death penalty more than doubled in the third century — and quadrupled in the fourth century.

As such, researchers also noted that Roman cemeteries of the first and second centuries contained roughly 5 per cent decapitated bodies. But cemeteries that date between the third and fifth centuries contain almost 10 per cent.

Archeologists at the burial site.

Plus, the people who worked at Knobb’s Farm served a particularly important purpose to the Roman Empire — they helped supply the Roman Imperial Army. They bore unusual scrutiny from authorities.

“Roman laws seem to have been applied particularly harshly at Knobb’s Farm because it was associated with supplying the Roman army, so there were many decapitations,” explained Lisboa.

“Crimes normally would have been let go, but there were probably tensions with the Roman army.”

Because people living in the area supplied meat and grain to Roman troops, Roman authorities harshly punished any wrongdoing. Crimes that merited the death penalty, according to Gosden, could range from murder and theft to merely desecrating a shrine.

Over the centuries, the charges brought against those killed at Knobb’s Farm have been lost. But archaeologists do have a couple of clues about the people themselves. By studying their DNA and tooth enamel, researchers believe that Romans recruited people from far-flung regions like present-day Scotland, and the Alps.

And because they were buried among non-decapitated skeletons, researchers suspect that they had people who loved and cared for them.

“They were not buried as outcasts — they were buried in the normal rite with miniature pots around their heads,” Lisboa noted.

Indeed, despite the brutality of Roman rule in England, it seems that the Romans did allow their subjects one small mercy. Roman law permitted friends and families of executed criminals to request their bodies’ return for a proper burial.