Mysterious Viking Sword Made With Technology From the Future?
A mystery sword made by the Vikings and engraved with the word Ulfberht has stumped archaeologists.
The sword is forged in such a way that it looks to have been made by technologies that weren’t available until 800 years after the Viking era.
Around 170 of the swords have been found, all of which date from between 800AD to 1000AD, but the technology that would have forged them is from the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s and 1900s.
A television program has looked into the mystery in more detail called, ‘Secrets of the Viking Sword’. Its researchers say that to forge the iron which the swords are made of, the ore needs to be heated to around 3000 degrees (F).
It then liquefies and the impurities are removed. It is then mixed with carbon to strengthen the iron.
However medieval technologies, which are what the Vikings would have been using, would not have been able to heat any metal or substance that high a temperature.
In those days, the impurities would have been removed by hammering them out of the iron.
In contradiction to this, the Ulfberht contains almost no impurities at all and it has thrice the amount of carbon in it than any other metals that are known to have existed at the time. The metal the swords are made of is known as crucible steel.
Furnaces that could heat metals and substances to extremely high temperatures what not invented until the industrial revolution when the tools for the heating iron to these temperatures were also developed.
A blacksmith has consulted with the television program’s researchers and has said that to make a sword like the Ulfberht Is highly complex and difficult.
The blacksmith is the only person who has the skills and tools available to try to reproduce the metal of the Ulfberht.
He believes that whoever made the sword during the Viking era would have surely been thought to possess magic powers since the metal was and still is so special and unique.
The sword bends but doesn’t break, it stays razor-sharp and is very lightweight, and so to soldiers, it would have been thought of as almost supernatural.
The blacksmith spent many days working to try to recreate the Ulfberht using medieval technology and finally did produce a similar metal with great skill and hard work. It’s rumoured that his hard work has inspired many others to become a blacksmith and produce a sword of similar quality. Of course, nowadays, it’s easy for someone to get ahold of the best beginner blacksmith kit, whereas in previous years it may not have been that easy.
Researchers now believe it is possible that the knowledge to make the swords originated in the Middle East and that trade routes between there and Europe would have spread the knowledge and technologies.
When those trade routes eventually closed, due to lack of use, so too did the Ulfberht ceased to continue being made.
The World’s Second Longest Wall, Kumbhalgarh Fort, is Right Here in India
We are all familiar with China’s Great Wall, the biggest wall ever constructed. It is a wall with a multitude of tales, including different historical and mythological assessments. In the past, Chinese inmates have been sent to serve their sentence.
It is likely that fewer individuals have heard about the Kumbhalgarh Fort and its adjacent wall, commonly agreed to be the world’s second-largest wall.
Kumbhalgarh is a place nestled in the western portion of India between 13 towering mountain peaks. More specifically, it can be found in Rajasthan State, approximately 50 miles from Udaipur City.
Found among the mountaintops, the Kumbhalgarh Fort is a 15th-century masterpiece built by Rana Kumbha. The site also counts as the birthplace of one of the greatest Mewar rulers and warriors are known as Maharana Pratap. However, this area was considered to be of high strategic importance long before the Kumbha dynasty came to prominence.
The very first fort to occupy the spot at Kumbhalgarh was there as early as the 6th century. Back then, it was King Samprati of the Maura Age who constructed it.
A majority of historians consider him a peace-loving ruler, and a very courageous king. He had managed to establish several Jain centers across different Arab countries, as well as Iran.
It is not very clear though what happened in the region or with the site of the fort until the beginning of the 14th century. At that point, it was Alauddin Khiljii who occupied the area. He was one of the greatest Muslim rulers by far, running successful campaigns on the Indian subcontinent and acquiring territories that reached the most southern parts of it.
Kumbhalgarh, as it is today, was built and ruled by the Kumbha dynasty, which eventually brought prosperity and progress to the region. Unlike the Great Wall of China, which took more than 1,800 years to complete, the Great Wall of India, as the Kumbhalgarh is often referred to, took just a little less than a century to finish.
The wall extends over roughly 22 miles, while its width varies between 15 and 25 feet, which is still enough to accommodate up to eight horses across it positioned side by side. Moreover, Kumbhalgarh Fort also makes for the second most important fort in the area, coming after the Chittorgarh Fort.
Occupying its spot in the wilderness atop a hill, Kumbhalgarh sits at around 3,280 feet above sea level. The building activities had commenced in 1443 AD and the story goes that at first, it was very difficult for Kumbha to make the wall stand strong and tall.
Legend has it that a couple of attempts were made to build the wall, but nothing really worked out. That is, until the moment a spiritual teacher supposedly came to give advice, saying that someone had to sacrifice their life in order for the wall to be successfully accomplished.
Several versions of the legend exist, and all of them tell of a different character who happened to sacrifice his life for the fort; either it was a pilgrim or a soldier, or the spiritual teacher and the pilgrim were one and the same person.
A person was chosen and beheaded in ritual practice, and the temple was constructed supposedly at the same spot where his head fell.
In remembrance of this significant sacrifice, there is a shrine and a temple named as “Hanuman Pol” today, standing at the main gate of the fortress, which is one of seven gates in total that guard the locality.
The complex incorporates at least 360 temples in its boundaries, including Jain and Hindu ones, as well as a prominent watchtower. The Badal Mahal Palace is certainly one of the most remarkable edifices of all within the complex, standing out with its beautiful green, white, and turquoise colors.
Throughout its long history, Kumbhalgarh parted the kingdoms of Mewar and Marwar for a great period of time, serving as the ultimate refuge of several Mewar rulers.
Over the course of five centuries or more, Kumbhalgarh has been occupied only once, and it took the combined effort of several armies to occupy the locality. The occupation lasted for a mere two days, and apparently, it all happened because all the water resources had allegedly run out back at the fort.
Significant renovation on Kumbhalgarh took its course during the 19th century. At present, the site is opened for visitors to explore, whether that means reaching the most remote parts of the wall, or by just taking a look at the most mesmerizing view that opens from its most accessible point.
Viking Sex Slaves – The Dirty Secret Behind The Founding Of Iceland
Iceland has become among millennials a famous tourist destination with its incredible landscape, friendly people, and cheap flights.
Although, if any found themselves in Reykjavik and took a trip to the National Museum of Iceland, they might find a display there with an interesting statistic. In fact, it’s a statistic with some dark implications for Iceland’s past.
After analyzing the DNA of modern Icelanders, scientists have been able to come up with a fairly accurate idea of what the founding population of the country looked like.
Around 80% of Icelandic men were Norse, hailing from Scandinavian countries like Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Of course, as a colony founded by Norse settlers, that’s to be expected.
But based on the mitochondrial DNA, which is only passed down in the female line, we know that over half of the female settlers were Celtic, meaning they came from Ireland, Scotland, and the northwestern islands of Britain. So essentially, the founders of Iceland were a strange combination of Norse men and Celtic women.
At first glance, that fact is just an interesting bit of genealogy. But it quickly grows more disturbing the more you think about it. After all, the people who settled Iceland were also the same people who produced the infamous Vikings.
However, as most people know, the Vikings had a habit of carrying off slaves. Given the genetics of Iceland and the nature of the people who settled it, it’s possible that a large percentage of the first women in Iceland were taken there as slaves.
Slavery played a much larger part in Norse society than most people are aware of. Slaves, or “thralls” as they were called, were present in most Norse communities, with many being taken in Viking raids across Europe. While the warriors spent most of their time fighting or drinking, it was up to slaves to do a great deal of the work around the village.
In fact, it was a serious insult to a Viking to say that he had to milk his own cows. That was considered work for slaves and women, and with so many around, no free-born Norseman needed to milk any cows.
The lives of slaves were often quite brutal. Slaves were regularly subjected to violence, both as punishment and for religious reasons. When their masters died, slaves were often murdered so that they could serve them in death as they had in life.
Above all, Vikings prized young female slaves. These girls taken in raids could expect to be raped regularly while being pressed into a life of domestic servitude. The desire for women might even explain a lot about why Vikings began to raid Britain in the 9th century.
Some scholars have suggested that early Norse society was polygamous, and powerful chiefs married multiple wives, leaving none for other men.
According to this theory, Vikings first took to the seas to find women because there were few available in Scandinavia.
This theory could also explain why Vikings leaving to settle Iceland would have looked to Britain as a source of women.
There simply weren’t enough available women in Scandinavia to help settle the island. If this is the case, then the settling of Iceland involved Norse raiders making stops in Britain on the way, killing the men, and carrying off the women.
Once on the island, it’s harder to say what these women’s lives might have been like. Some historians have suggested that though they started out as slaves, the Norsemen in Iceland eventually took the women as wives. If so, then they may have treated them with a basic level of respect. Norse culture placed a heavy emphasis on maintaining a happy household with a spouse.
Others have suggested that these women may have willingly gone to Iceland with Norsemen who settled in their communities. But the Vikings were never shy about taking slaves, and there certainly were slaves in Iceland.
The most likely explanation is that there were Celts who volunteered to go to Iceland as well as Celtic women who were taken there as slaves. That means that, on some level, sexual slavery played a significant role in the settlement of Iceland.
Fossil of a beetle inside a lizard inside a snake – an ancient food chain
Paleontologists have uncovered a fossil that has preserved an insect inside a lizard inside a snake – a prehistoric battle of the food chain that ended in a volcanic lake some 48 million years ago.
Pulled from an abandoned quarry in southwest Germany called the Messel Pit, the fossil is only the second of its kind ever found, with the remains of three animals sitting snug in one another.
Earlier excavations have revealed the fossilized stomach contents of a prehistoric horse, whose last meal was grapes and leaves, and pollen grains were identified inside a fossilized bird. Remains of insects have also been detected in a sample of fish excrement.
We have been lucky to glimpse such a primordial food chain of the snake, that ate a lizard, that had previously treated itself to a beetle, and ended up in a volcanic lake of the time. It is uncertain how the snake died.
Perhaps the snake’s body fell dead close to the shores of the lake before the waters claimed it. It had died there not more than 48 hours after its “last supper,” scientists say.
“It’s probably the kind of fossil that I will go the rest of my professional life without ever encountering again, such is the rarity of these things.” Such are the words of Dr. Krister Smith, a paleontologist at the Senkenberg Institute in Germany who took charge of the fossil analysis.
According to Dr. Smith, the almost entirely preserved snake was recovered from a plate found in the pit back in 2009, and the discovery soon turned out to be groundbreaking. Smith remarks, “we had never found a tripartite food chain–this is a first for Messel.”
Dr. Smith and Argentine paleontologist Dr. Agustín Scanferla used high-resolution computer imaging to identify the taxonomy of the snake and the lizard, however, they were unable to name the beetle, the least preserved of the three.
The snake, measuring some 3.4 feet in length, was identified as Palaeophython fischeri, a species which belongs to a group of tree-dwelling snakes that was able to grow to more than 6.5 feet in length and is related to today’s boas.
The preserved sample from Germany was only a juvenile, an assurance being not only the shorter length but also its food choice, the lizard. Adult boas are known to opt for bigger animals.
The lizard would have measured nearly eight inches and a clear hint for paleontologists that it was inside the snake’s body was that the snake’s ribs overlapped it.
It is an example of the now extinct species Geiseltaliellus maarius, a type of iguanian lizard that inhabited the region of what is now Germany, France, and Belgium. Messel has been the site that has provided some of the best-preserved samples of this lizard species.
What’s also interesting is that, even though lizards are known for shedding their tails when under threat, this one has kept it despite falling prey to the snake.
“Since the stomach contents are digested relatively fast and the lizard shows an excellent level of preservation, we assume that the snake died no more than one to two days after consuming its prey and then sank to the bottom of the Messel Lake, where it was preserved,” explained Dr. Smith.
This is a rare type of fossil, but it’s not the first instance in which a fossil has simultaneously exposed three levels of an ancient food chain. According to National Geographic, in 2008, a fossil dated at more than 250 millions of years old depicted a shark that had devoured an amphibian that had previously consumed a spiny-finned fish.
Both these findings are precious as they reveal significant details on how food chains functioned. In the case of the snake fossil, it is interesting that the lizard had eaten a beetle.
Before that, scientists didn’t know that the Messel lizard liked to dine on insects, as in previous digs they had been able to identify only remains of plants in fossilized lizard bellies. In the case of the shark, it was revealed that amphibians consumed fish before becoming a menu item to the fish itself.
A Scientist Claims The World’s Oldest Pyramid Is Hidden in an Indonesian Mountain
When Dutch colonists became the first Europeans to discover Gunung (Mount) Padang in the early 20th century, they must have been awestruck by the sheer scale of their ancient stone surroundings.
Here, scattered across a vast hilltop in the West Java province of Indonesia, lay the remnants of a massive complex of rocky structures and monuments – an archaeological wonder since described as the largest megalithic site in all of Southeastern Asia.
But those early settlers couldn’t have guessed the greatest wonder of all might lay hidden, buried deep in the ground below their feet.
A Shocking Discovery At Gunung Padang
Located in the West Java Province of Indonesia, Gunung Padang doesn’t look like a pyramid. It looks like a large hill covered in broken columns of ancient volcanic rock, a kind of prehistoric graveyard where all the tombstones have been knocked down.
For many years, that’s all archeologists thought the site was. The Dutch colonizers who came across it in 1914 identified it as an ancient megalithic site, the remains of some stone monument prehistoric peoples had cobbled together on raised ground for a purpose lost to time.
While it was the largest megalithic site in Indonesia, it wasn’t nearly as significant as those in other places, and its stones weren’t the oldest; they were dated to around 2,500 years ago. Interest in the site was limited — that is, until 2010, when Danny Hilman Natawidjaja arrived on the scene.
Hilman, a researcher from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, thought there was more to the site than anyone suspected — and he was going to prove it. He would later tell LiveScience, “It’s not like the surrounding topography, which is very much eroded. This looks very young. It looked artificial to us.”
Using careful excavations and remote sensing techniques like ground-penetrating radar and seismic tomography, he and his team got to work.
What they found stunned the archeological community. The majority of the 100-meter hill is man-made — and it’s not actually a hill at all. It’s a terraced pyramid, built up over millennia by the oldest civilizations the world has yet discovered.
Pulling Back The Layers Of The World’s Oldest Pyramid
The structure under the hill appears to be massive: researchers estimate that it’s as much as three times larger than Java’s famous Borobudur Temple Compounds. But what purpose it served and whether there’s a tomb at its heart remain a mystery. Gunung Padang doesn’t give up its secrets easily.
The enigma is largely a result of the pyramid’s complexity: the site was inhabited and reworked multiple times, as evidenced by its distinctive layers.
The level just below the hill’s grassy modern surface appears to have been constructed by a society that occupied the region around 600 BCE. But they weren’t the first on the scene — not even close.
That society was simply papering over the work of another civilization, this one dating back to 4,700 BCE. Their work is buried some four or five meters below the surface.
And yet this group, too, was building off what their forebears had already done. Digging deeper into the hill reveals an entirely new layer, this one roughly 10 meters below the surface, that dates back to around 10,000 BCE.
The heart of the pyramid, the deepest layer, appears to have been constructed over millennia, with the oldest bits hailing from as far back as 25,000 BCE.
If the carbon dating on this deepest section is correct, then Gunung Padang didn’t just beat the pyramids — it clocks in ahead of the first recognized civilization in Mesopotamia. It shows evidence of a settled society 12,000 years before the agricultural revolution.
The society that first built at the site of Gunung Padang even predates the last Ice Age, which ended in 11,500 BCE — a date that archaeologists have traditionally used to mark the beginning of the great human civilizations.
Nationalism And Skeptics Play Politics With Gunung Padang
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the discovery has been controversial. The nature of the find alone makes the stakes enormously high: Indonesia may be home to the earliest advanced civilization the world has ever uncovered. The find is a source of enormous pride to the Indonesian people and especially the government, which has spared no expense on the excavation.
Yet some suggest this enthusiasm has led Hilman and his team to come up with biased interpretations of the evidence they’ve uncovered. The team’s carbon dating procedures have fallen under scrutiny, and some believe the results don’t mean what the researchers claim they do.
Also raising eyebrows are the remains of what researchers believe was an ancient cement mixture used to glue Gunung Padang’s stones together. Its composition, a combination of clay, iron, and silica, suggests that iron-melting technology was in use well before the beginning of the Iron Age, drawing a picture of a society far more advanced than any other known to have existed at the time.
Several scientists, however, have spoken out against this conclusion, saying that the mortar isn’t necessarily man-made; similar compositions are found in nature. Vulcanologist Sutikno Bronto doesn’t even believe the structure is a pyramid: he thinks it’s the neck of a volcano near the site.
There’s also the fact that nearby excavations haven’t turned up similar results. Less than 30 miles away, ancient bone tools dating back to 7,000 BCE were discovered in a cave. For some, it’s hard to believe that the builders of Gunung Padang could have been advanced enough to build pyramids while their closest neighbors were still carving tools from the bone.
Proponents of Hilman’s conclusions have suggested the answers might lie beneath the waves of the Java Sea. Millennia ago, when sea levels were lower, the ocean bed was land — and perhaps the home of the great society the research team envisions. But the sea has since swallowed the evidence of their existence, making concrete proof difficult to find.
In short, though Hilman and his researchers have put forward a compelling challenge to those who believe the prehistoric peoples of 20,000 years ago were simple hunter-gatherers, many remain unconvinced. The hunt for evidence continues, and the debate rages on.
Newly Discovered Human-Sized Dinosaur Footprint Is The Largest Ever Found
Australian researchers digging in the area known as “Australia’s Jurassic Park” have found the world’s biggest dinosaur footprint yet to be discovered.
According to their findings published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, the University of Queensland and James Cook University paleontologists found 20 more dinosaur footprints while digging around the Kimberly area in Western Australia.
Until now, the biggest known dinosaur footprint was a 106cm track discovered in the Mongolian desert.
At the new site, along the Kimberley shoreline in a remote region of Western Australia, paleontologists discovered a rich collection of dinosaur footprints in the sandstone rock, many of which are only visible at low tide.
The prints, belonging to about 21 different types of dinosaur, are also thought to be the most diverse collection of prints in the world.
Steve Salisbury, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Queensland told ABC News: “We’ve got several tracks up in that area that is about 1.7 meters long.
So most people would be able to fit inside tracks that big, and they indicate animals that are probably around 5.3 to 5.5 meters at the hip, which is enormous.”
Salisbury said the diversity of the tracks was globally unparalleled and made the area the “Cretaceous equivalent of the Serengeti”. He also dubbed it “Australia’s own Jurassic Park”.
“It is extremely significant, forming the primary record of non-avian dinosaurs in the western half the continent and providing the only glimpse of Australia’s dinosaur fauna during the first half of the early Cretaceous period,” he said.
The findings were reported in the Memoir of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.
“There are thousands of tracks,” said Salisbury. “Of these, 150 can confidently be assigned to 21 specific track types, representing four main groups of dinosaurs.”
The largest tracks belonged to sauropods, huge Diplodocus-like herbivores with long necks and tails.
The scientists also discovered tracks from about four different types of ornithopod dinosaurs (two-legged herbivores) and six types of armored dinosaurs, including Stegosaurs, which had not previously been seen in Australia.
At the time the prints were left, 130m years ago, the area was a large river delta and dinosaurs would have traversed wet sandy areas between surrounding forests.
The latest investigation was prompted after the region was selected as the site for a liquid natural gas processing precinct in 2008.
The area’s traditional custodians, the Goolarabooloo people, who were aware of the prints, contacted Salisbury and his team and asked them to investigate.
The scientists from Queensland University and James Cook University, along with Indigenous representatives, spent 400 hours documenting the prints.
“Dinosaur tracks have been known through that area, probably for thousands of years. They form part of the song cycle,” Salisbury said told ABC News.
“We got contacted to come in and have a closer look, and it didn’t take long for us to realize that … there was a spectacular dinosaur track fauna preserved there that was at risk.”
The “Oldest Gold Of Mankind” was found in the Varna Necropolis, on The Bulgarian Black Sea Coast
In 1972, an excavator operator working in the industrial zone of the city Varna will stumble upon something that will turn out to be a very significant historical site. The Varna Necropolis has discovered approximately half a kilometer from Lake Varna and 4 km from the city center. It is estimated that it was made sometime between 4,600 BC to 4,200 BC.
Around 300 graves have been found at this burial site, but the most significant is grave 43. It contained the remains of a high-status person and it was covered with treasures. This single grave contained more gold than all of the other archeological sites from that period put together.
We constantly speak about early, ancient, civilizations like the ones that thrived in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus Valley, that shaped humanity as we know today. But not a lot of people know about the mysterious people that lived on the shores of the Back Sea in modern-day Bulgaria 7,000 years ago. Archeologists call this civilization the Varna Culture.
The Varna Culture was considered small and insignificant for a long time until it was proven that this was a highly developed culture that preexisted Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations. The discoveries made in the Varna Necropolis also showed that it was that first known culture that produced artifacts made of gold. This site is the largest prehistoric necropolis in south-eastern Europe.
According to the evidence, gold processing in the Varna region started between 4600 and 4200 BC. The ore processing technology was constantly developing here, and soon, the craftsmen became very skilled in manufacturing copper and gold items. They had the perfect products for trade.
Varna people were perfectly situated between the east and the western world. One one side they had the Black Sea and the opportunity to trade with their neighbors that lived around it and beyond, and on the other side, the road was opened for trade with the whole Mediterranean region. Because of this Varna became an important trading center.
They were able to accumulate great wealth (especially the craftsmen that worked with gold and copper) and develop a nice society mostly consisted of Metallurgists, merchants, and farmers, kind of a class system. This was the basis upon which a powerful and influential culture emerged, one that would spread across Europe for thousands of years.
Before 1972, the only artifacts found from the time of the Varna Culture were tools, vessels, utensils, and figurines made from stone, flint, bone, and claystone made. But, after archeologists Mihail Lazarov and Ivan Ivanov revealed the Varna Necropolis to the world, this amazing civilization was viewed from a different perspective.
Inside the 300 graves of the necropolis, archeologists unearthed more than 22,000 unique artifacts. This huge list of items contains more than 3,000 golden artifacts, that is 6 kilograms of pure gold. Besides this, there were also plenty of high-quality copper, flint and stone tools, jewelry, shells of Mediterranean mollusks, pottery, obsidian blades, and beads.
Among the many elite burials in the necropolis, there was one that was different from the others. Different in the sense of “more spectacular.” After uncovering grave 43, archeologists concluded that it was the final resting place of a high-status male, probably a ruler, or some kind of leader in the society.
This was the richest grave of all that have been found, not only in Varna Necropolis but in the whole world at that time. The person was buried with a beautiful golden scepter in his hand. The scepter is a symbol of high rank or spiritual power.
His whole body and its surroundings were covered with golden items. Necklaces, bracelets, earrings, round shaped golden items placed on specific parts of the body, and he even had a golden plate around the genitals. Together with the golden artifacts, the weapons that probably belonged to this person were also placed around his body.
Besides the material richness that Varna necropolis provided archeologists with, it also gave an insight into the hierarchy in this ancient society, their religious beliefs and intricate burial practices. Males and females were buried differently. Males were laid out on their backs while females were placed in the fetal position. There was also another type of graves found.
Some of the graves didn’t contain skeletons, they were only filled with items. These symbolic graves, known as cenotaphs, were one of the richest with gold and treasures. They contained masks made of clay and gold amulets made in the shape of women, placed below the mask, where the neck of a buried person was supposed to be.
The amulets are symbolizing pregnancy and fertility which indicates that they are meant for women. The empty graves also contained a copper pin, a flint knife, and a spindle whorl.
This further indicates that the symbolic graves were made for women, or as a gift for some kind of deity that symbolizes the feminine principle. It is still a mystery why these graves were left without human remains.
The Varna civilization is without direct descendants, they were probably assimilated in other surrounding European and Asian cultures during all those centuries of turmoil in this region.
However, they left a huge legacy and with their accomplishments they made the appearance of the following European civilizations possible. We may never know how the Varna people really lived, but Varna necropolis with all the magical artifacts opens our imaginations.
Archaeologists have discovered an extraordinary Roman sculpture in the form of an eagle firmly grasping a writhing serpent in its beak.
Working on a site in the City of London, ahead of development of a 16 storey 291 bed hotel by Scottish Widows Investment Partnership (SWIP) and its development partners Endurance Land, the team from MOLA were at first hesitant to announce the discovery and to proclaim its Roman origins, owing to its almost unbelievable preservation.
A symbol of immortality and power, it was carefully preserved when the aristocratic tomb it decorated was smashed up more than 1,800 years ago – and is regarded as one of the best pieces of Romano-British art ever found.
The preservation is so startling that the archaeologists who found it at the bottom of a ditch, on the last day of excavation on a development site at the Minories, were worried in case they had unearthed a Victorian garden ornament.
Excitement spread as it became clear from the context that it really was Roman – but carved in Britain, from Cotswold limestone. Archaeologists are itching to research it further but first after a quick clean – and a frame to support the only damage, a broken wing – it is going on display for six months at the Museum of London, just 30 days from ditch to gallery.
Martin Henig, an internationally renowned expert on Roman art, said: “The sculpture is of exceptional quality, the finest sculpture by a Romano-British artist ever found in London, and amongst the very best statues surviving from Roman Britain.
Its condition is extraordinary, as crisp as on the day it was carved. All it has lost is the surface paint, probably washed away when it was deposited in a ditch.”
The only comparable find in Britain is the sad stump of a bird, lacking head, wings, and feet, found at a Roman villa site at Keynsham in Somerset in the 1920s. The closest from across the Roman empire was an eagle and serpent found in Jordan, now in the Cincinnati Art Museum.
Eagles are found across the empire, usually as symbols of imperial clout, but they were also used as funerary emblems: there are extraordinary contemporary accounts of live eagles trapped within the funeral pyres of emperors, freed to soar towards the sky as the flames crackled, symbolizing the moment when the dead man became a god.
The London eagle was carved in the first century AD, at a time when the Roman city was exploding in population and wealth. It is believed to have stood on an imposing mausoleum, on the roadside edge of the eastern cemetery just outside the city walls. The road was once lined with the monuments of the wealthiest citizens, like the Via Appia outside Rome.
Possibly only a few decades later, many of the monuments were demolished – probably as ownership of the plots changed and new ones were built. There is even evidence suggesting that some of the old bones were left scattered in the open air.
Most of the stone was reused as hardcore or building stone, but the eagle was carefully laid into a ditch, probably just beside its former perch.
Michael Marshall, finds an expert at the Museum of London Archaeology, believes that superstitious awe probably protected such a powerful religious symbol, even when the tomb of its original owner became builders’ rubble.
There it lay for almost 2,000 years, surviving in almost pristine condition while Tudor cellars, Victorian warehouses, and 20th-century concrete piling punched through the earth all around it. until the Monday morning last month – the last day of the excavation before a 16-story hotel is built on the site.
When Antoinette Lerz and David Sankey lifted the mud-caked lump of stone from the ground, they set it on the edge of their pit, and first began to clean off the clay with a trowel – and then as they saw the delicacy of the carving, with a dentist’s pick.
When they had revealed a wing and the sharp-beaked head was emerging, they phoned site supervisor Simon Davis to suggest nervously that they thought they had found something extraordinary. “We were a bit nervous at first about proclaiming it as Roman, because the condition was so extraordinary,” Davis said.
The bird’s front is intricately carved, but the back is flattened and plain – like a Staffordshire china mantelpiece dog – suggesting that it was originally sheltered by a niche, or stood within a tomb building. Scattered animal bones and pottery nearby suggest funeral feasts or that family members revisited the tomb to dine with the spirits of their dead.
Serpents could be either benevolent symbols or harbingers of evil: some eagle and serpent carvings show the two beasts quite companionably entwined.
There is nothing benevolent about the London serpent, carved wreathed around the bird, its tongue still flickering on the feathery chest, but the great beak is about to snap shut: “It’s all over for the snake – it just doesn’t know it yet,” Michael Marshall said.
The eagle’s triumph is greater because the snake is equipped with an alarming row of sharp teeth.
“This may suggest that the artist had never got up close and personal with a snake,” Marshall said. “We did have a go at identifying the species of the snake when we had some zoologists in – but they just said ‘it’s a snake’.”