Category Archives: AUSTRIA

1,500-Year-Old Christian Ivory Reliquary Box Discovered in Austria

1,500-Year-Old Christian Ivory Reliquary Box Discovered in Austria

1,500-Year-Old Christian Ivory Reliquary Box Discovered in Austria

Archaeologists have discovered an exceptional Christian ancient ivory reliquary  box in Austria that is thought to be around 1,500 years old.

Innsbruck archaeologists have been excavating in an old hilltop settlement in southern Austria since the summer of 2016. They made the incredible discovery of a Christian reliquary concealed in a previously unknown church two years ago. This reliquary contained an ancient ivory  box, richly decorated with Christian symbols.

The incredible artifact was discovered on August 4, 2022, in an early Christian church on the Burgbichl hill in Irschen, southern Austria, by a team headed by archaeologist Gerald Grabherr. A marble shrine measuring around 20 by 30 centimeters was hidden under the altar in the side chapel area.

The artifact in question is heavily fragmented, but researchers said the pieces once formed a type of round container known as a “pyx” that in this case was made of ivory and richly decorated with Christian motifs.

The shrine contained a heavily fragmented ivory “box” (pyx) richly decorated with Christian motifs – a reliquary that is normally taken away as the “holiest” part when a church is abandoned. In this case, however, it was left behind. It is the first such pyx to be found in an archaeological context in Austria.

The individual fragments of the ivory pyx found in a marble shrine laid out as a panorama.

“We know of around 40 ivory  boxes of this kind worldwide and, as far as I know, the last time one of these was found during excavations was around 100 years ago – the few pyxes that exist are either preserved in cathedral treasures or exhibited in museums,” explains the finder, Gerald Grabherr.

While the archaeologists initially assumed that the remains of a saint – i.e. a relic in the classic sense of the word – were also found in the marble  box, the layering of the fragments found in the shrine indicates that the ivory pyx was already broken in late antiquity and was buried in the altar.

“The pyx was presumably also seen as sacred and was treated as such because it was in contact with a relic. The archaeological and art-historical significance of the pyx cannot be denied,” emphasizes Gerald Grabherr.

At one end, the pyx shows a figure at the foot of a mountain – the man depicted is turning his gaze away and a hand rising out of the sky above him, placing something between the person’s arms.

 “This is the typical depiction of the handing over of the laws to Moses on Mount Sinai, the beginning of the covenant between God and man from the Old Testament,” says Gerald Grabherr.

This is followed by depictions of biblical figures. At the end, you can see a man on a chariot with two horses harnessed to it – and here, too, a hand coming out of the clouds pulls this figure up into heaven. “We assume that this is a depiction of the ascension of Christ, the fulfilment of the covenant with God.

The depiction of scenes from the Old Testament and their connection with scenes from  the New Testament New Testament is typical of late antiquity and thus fits in with our pyx; however, the depiction of the Ascension of Christ with a so-called biga, a two-horse chariot, is very special and previously unknown.”

Since its discovery, the 1,500-year-old ivory pyx has been conserved at the University of Innsbruck.

Ivory stored underground absorbs moisture, making it very soft and easily damaged. Uncontrolled drying can lead to shrinkage and cracks.

Ulrike Töchterle, head of the restoration workshop in Innsbruck, said, “The high humidity in the marble shrine meant there was a high risk of condensation and mold, so we had to ensure a careful and prolonged drying process.”

Over the past two years, the individual pieces of the ivory pyx have been conserved for  scientific analysis. The larger parts are deformed, so the pyx cannot be restored to its original state. However, researchers are working on a 3D reconstruction.

Study Impacts Understanding of First Australians’ Possible Route

Study Impacts Understanding of First Australians’ Possible Route

Study Impacts Understanding of First Australians’ Possible Route
Professor Sue O’Connor (left) and Dr Shimona Kealy say the “major” migration to Timor Island was no accident.

The discovery of thousands of stone artefacts and animal bones in a deep cave in Timor Island has led archaeologists to reassess the route that early humans took to reach Australia.

Researchers from The Australian National University (ANU), Flinders University, University College London (UCL) and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage dated and analysed the artefacts and sediment at the Laili rock shelter in central-north Timor-Leste, north of Australia, to pinpoint the arrival of the colonists.

They detected a human “arrival signature” from about 44,000 years ago, suggesting there were no humans on the island prior to this time.

“Unlike other sites in the region, the Laili rock shelter preserved deep sediments dating between 59,000 and 54,000 years ago which showed no clear signs of human occupation,” Dr Shimona Kealy, from the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, said.

“When we analyse and compare markers of human occupation from other sites across Timor-Leste and nearby Flores Island, we can confidently say humans were also absent throughout the wider region of the southern Wallacean islands.

“This is significant as these islands were most likely a gateway crossing for ancient humans making the crossing to Australia.”

Study co-author Professor Sue O’Connor, also from ANU, said Timor Island has long been considered a stepping stone island for the first human migration between mainland Southeast Asia and into Australia and New Guinea. But the new findings challenge this theory.

“The absence of humans on Timor Island earlier than at least 50,000 years ago is significant as it indicates that these early humans arrived on the island later than previously believed,” she said.

“This provides further evidence to suggest early humans were making the crossing to Australia using the stepping stone island of New Guinea, rather than Timor Island as researchers had previously suggested.

“In addition to prompting a re-evaluation of the route and timing of earliest human migration through Wallacea and into Sahul, our findings highlight the fact that migration into the islands was ongoing with occupation of the southern islands occurring thousands of years after the initial settlement of Australia.”

The sediment from the site was analysed at the Flinders Microarchaeology Laboratory by co-author Associate Professor Mike Morley.

“The shift from pre-occupation to intensive human activity at the site was very clear in the sediments,” Associate Professor Morley, from Flinders University, said.

“As soon as people arrived on the scene, their use of the cave was very intensive, with clear evidence of burning and trampling of the shelter floor underfoot.”

The research team unearthed lots of small stone tools during the excavation, as well as charred fish bones.

“We know these people specialised in making tiny stone tools, but we’re not 100 per cent sure what they were used for,” Dr Kealy said.

“Because a lot of their diet was either shellfish or small animals, you don’t really need big knives to gather that sort of food. But having small, fine tools is useful for things like stripping leaves to then weave into baskets, but also for creating wooden tools.”

Based on the sheer number of artefacts unearthed at the site, the researchers say the migration to Timor Island was a “major” one. According to the researchers, these ancient humans likely made the crossing to Timor from nearby Flores Island and mainland Southeast Asia.

“The traditional view held by researchers is that early humans who were making these significant water crossings were stumbling upon these islands by mistake, largely because it was so long ago,” Dr Kealy said.

“Their arrival on Timor was no accident. This was a major colonisation effort, evident through the sheer number of people who were making the journey.

“It’s a testament to these peoples’ level of maritime technology and the boats they created, but also their confidence and competence in braving maritime crossings.”

The research is published in Nature Communications. This work was led by Dr Ceri Shipton from UCL and also involved scientists from Griffith University and the University of Wollongong. 

‘Complete lack of sunlight’ killed a Renaissance-era toddler, CT scan reveals

‘Complete lack of sunlight’ killed a Renaissance-era toddler, CT scan reveals

'Complete lack of sunlight' killed a Renaissance-era toddler, CT scan reveals
The child mummy, a member of the Austrian aristocracy, was found wrapped in a silk-hooded coat.

A “virtual autopsy” of the mummified remains of a toddler buried inside a family crypt in Austria reveals that the child died from a lack of sunlight, a new study finds.

Believed to be Reichard Wilhelm, the first-born son of a Count of Starhemberg, a prominent member of the Austrian aristocracy, the young boy lived during the Renaissance (between the 14th and 17th centuries) and died when he was just 10 to 18 months old.

Yet despite his privileged upbringing, a team of scientists from Germany concluded that he experienced “extreme nutritional deficiency and a tragically early death from pneumonia,” according to a statement.

Scientists made the discovery while performing a CT scan and radiocarbon dating of the mummy, which was found wrapped in a hooded silk coat, his left hand draped across his abdomen.

The scans showed malformations on his ribs, classic signs of malnutrition, which “points to rickets,” according to the study, published on Oct. 26 in the journal Frontiers in Medicine. 

Known as a rachitic rosary, those malformations occur when knobs of rib bone begin to resemble rosary beads due to a vitamin D deficiency.

The boy’s remaining soft tissues showed that he was also overweight when he died, eliminating the possibility that he was underfed.

Detail of the mummy, his left hand placed on his abdomen.

“The combination of obesity along with a severe vitamin deficiency can only be explained by a generally ‘good’ nutritional status along with an almost complete lack of sunlight exposure,” Andreas Nerlich, the study’s lead author and a pathologist from the Academic Clinic Munich-Bogenhausen in Germany, said in the statement. “We have to reconsider the living conditions of high aristocratic infants of previous populations.”

Researchers found the child buried inside a wooden coffin that proved to be too small for him, based on a deformation of his skull.

The crypt was reserved exclusively for descendants of the Counts of Starhemberg, specifically their first-born sons who would have been titleholders, as well as the men’s wives.

Radiocarbon dating of a skin sample suggested he was buried between 1550 and 1635, however, building records indicate that the crypt underwent a renovation around 1600, so he likely was buried after that date. He was the youngest person buried in the crypt, according to the statement.

Mummified Baby From Centuries Ago May Have Died From Lack of Sunlight

Mummified Baby From Centuries Ago May Have Died From Lack of Sunlight

Mummified Baby From Centuries Ago May Have Died From Lack of Sunlight
The infant mummy is covered in a silk coat.

For centuries, the crypt of one of the oldest aristocratic families in Austria has preserved a tragic secret. A boy, perhaps no older than a year or two in age, who died not from a lack of food, or injury. But for a simple want of sunlight on his skin.

The male child was found mummified in a family crypt reserved for the Counts of Starhemberg, having been interred there somewhere between the middle of the 16th and 17th centuries. His tiny features are withered but detailed, his body still wrapped in an elaborate silk garment.

Yet, in spite of living a life of privilege, his short existence was clearly not a healthy one.

A virtual autopsy of the corpse using CT scans has revealed malformations to the ribs that resemble classical signs of malnutrition, specifically vitamin D deficiency. Known as rickets, this condition tends to result in a bowing of the legs, a feature that wasn’t evident in the boy’s bones.

Keeping an open mind, the researchers considered a second possibility – low amounts of vitamin C, resulting in scurvy. While the rib deformations aren’t identical for both conditions, their similarities were enough for the researchers to investigate further.

Fat tissue analysis revealed the 10- to 18-month-year-old was overweight for his age, at least compared to other infants of the time. As a result, researchers suspect the child was well-fed in his patrician life, making vitamin C deficiency less likely.

Vitamin D, on the other hand, isn’t absorbed from our food in significant amounts, but rather produced in the skin through chemical reactions that depend on ultraviolet (UV) radiation, suggesting the child was severely undernourished not for want of food, but by lack of sunlight.

The chemical is absolutely crucial in building bones during childhood, explaining bone abnormalities. It also allows the body to better absorb calcium and phosphorous throughout life.

“The combination of obesity along with a severe vitamin deficiency can only be explained by a generally ‘good’ nutritional status along with an almost complete lack of sunlight exposure,” explains pathologist Andreas Nerlich from the University of Munich.

Although rickets isn’t necessarily a death sentence, a look at the child’s lungs revealed signs of lethal pneumonia, an infection that is common in infants with vitamin-D deficiencies.

A close-up of the mummified infant with his hand on his stomach.

It took until the nineteenth century and a pandemic of rickets for scientists to figure out that Sun exposure is necessary for bone formation, much too late to help the Starhemberg infant.

The mummified infant found in Austria is just one child from one time in one family in one part of Europe, but given how few infant burials have been found so well-preserved, the discovery is an interesting insight into the living conditions of noble infants of the 16th and 17th centuries.

During this time, aristocrats often avoided the Sun to keep their skin porcelain white, a sign of high rank in much of European society. Only peasants and labourers were Sun-kissed.

In Italy, many skeletons of noble children buried in the Medici Chapels in Florence during the 16th and 17th centuries also show signs of rickets, including bowing of the limbs. Researchers behind a 2013 study argued that prolonged delay in providing adequate amounts of solid foods that would provide small amounts of vitamin D in infants could add to the risks of rickets.

It’s not clear if the infant found in the Austrian crypt was weaned, or ate fatty foods rich in vitamin D. What is known is he was well-fed and cared for. In fact, his high level of body fat is probably what has kept his remains so well preserved. There’s even some recent evidence that vitamin-D deficiency is tied to childhood obesity, raising questions of just what role his privileged diet might have played in his illness.

Given that the corpse was buried in a silk funerary coat and was the only infant in the family crypt, researchers suspect he was a firstborn, possibly named Gundaker, Gregor, or Reichard, judging by the family tree. Unfortunately, his coffin did not bear an inscription.

“This is only one case,” admits Nerlich, “but as we know that the early infant death rates generally were very high at that time, our observations may have a considerable impact on the overall life reconstruction of infants even in higher social classes.”

Gold ‘sun bowl’ discovered near Bronze Age swamp

Gold ‘sun bowl’ discovered near Bronze Age swamp

Archaeologists excavating a 3,000-year-old settlement in Austria have unearthed a golden bowl with the image of a sun adorning its underside. 

“At the bottom of the bowl, a sun disc with 11 rays is depicted,” Michał Sip, an archaeologist with the German company Novetus, who is leading excavations at the site, told Live Science in an email. The artisan (or artisans) who crafted the bowl also included a “circular motif [images] of circles and dots” decorating the bowl’s exterior, Sip said. 

The fragile bowl was shaped out of gold sheet metal, and it “probably had a cultic function,” Sip added. 

Gold 'sun bowl' discovered near Bronze Age swamp
A photo of the sun bowl is seen here. The bottom has a sun disc with 11 rays coming out. There are also circular motifs decorating the bowl.

Archaeologists know of about 30 similar bowls from ancient Europe, but “this is the first find of this type in Austria, and the second to the east of the alpine line,” Sip told Science in Poland.

These bowls were produced in the regions of what is now Germany, Scandinavia and Denmark, he noted.

At nearly 8 inches (20 centimetres) in diameter, the bowl is slightly larger than a person’s hand. But it’s very shallow — just 2 inches (5 cm) tall. An analysis revealed that the vessel is about 90% gold, 5% silver and 5% copper, and researchers are now hoping to discover where its raw materials originated, according to Science in Poland.

The bowl wasn’t the only stunning artefact found at the site. Two bracelets made from twisted gold wires were found with the bowl, and some organic remains, possibly fabric or leather, still cling to them.

The team is doing DNA tests to try to determine what the organic remains are, Sip said.

The bowl was found near the wall of one of the houses at the Bronze Age settlement, said Sip, adding that it’s possible that the bowl was wrapped in the gold wires and intentionally deposited at this location, perhaps during a religious ceremony honouring the sun.

The settlement dates back to before writing was used in the area, making it harder to determine what exactly the bowl would have been used for.

The prehistoric settlement lies beneath the modern-day town of Ebreichsdorf, Austria, and excavations are being conducted prior to the construction of a train station at the site.

During their excavations, the archaeologists also found nearly 500 bronze objects, including daggers, pins and knives, in a now-dry area south of the settlement that was once a swamp.

None of these objects is damaged, meaning that the swamp wasn’t used as a garbage dump for broken goods. Rather, these bronze objects were likely thrown into the water during rituals, Sip told Science in Poland.

After excavations are complete, the site will be returned to the Austrian Federal Railways, Sip said. Excavation of the site and analysis of its remains is ongoing. The gold bowl will soon go on display at Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

Archaeologists find a gold “solar bowl” in a 3,000-year-old settlement in Austria

Archaeologists find a gold “solar bowl” in a 3,000-year-old settlement in Austria

It was, in the words of archaeologist Michał Sip, the “discovery of a lifetime.” Unearthed ahead of construction of a railway station in Ebreichsdorf, just south of Vienna, the roughly 3,000-year-old golden bowl features a sun motif and is the first of its kind found in Austria, reports Szymon Zdziebijowski for the state-run Polish Press Agency (PAP).

The golden bowl may have been used in religious ceremonies honouring the sun.

Vessels of this kind have been found in other European countries, including Spain, France and Switzerland, says Sip, who is leading the excavation for Novetus, a German company that assists with archaeological digs. Only 30 similar bowls are known to exist, according to Heritage Daily.

Measuring about 8 inches long and 2 inches high, the Ebreichsdorf bowl is made of a thin metal consisting of 90 per cent gold, 5 per cent silver and 5 per cent copper.

“This is the [second] find of this type [discovered] to the east of the Alpine line,” Sip tells PAP, per Google Translate.

He adds, “Much more is known from the area of northern Germany, Scandinavia and Denmark because [this kind of pottery was] produced there.”

Archaeologists find a gold “solar bowl” in a 3,000-year-old settlement in Austria
The vessel contained gold bracelets and golden wires wrapped around decomposed fabric.

The golden vessel is linked to the Urnfield culture, a prehistoric society that spread across Europe beginning in the 12th century B.C.E., per Encyclopedia Britannica.

The group derived its name from the funerary ritual of placing ashes in urns and burying the containers in fields.

An image of the sun with rays emanating from it adorns the newly discovered bowl. Inside the vessel, archaeologists found two gold bracelets and coiled golden wires wrapped around now-decomposed fabric or leather.

“They were probably decorative scarves,” Sip tells PAP. He posits that the accessories were used during religious ceremonies honouring the sun.

Sip and his colleagues unearthed around 500 bronze objects, clay pottery and other artefacts at the Austrian site, which appears to have been a sizable prehistoric settlement. The team found the golden bowl in the shallow ground near the wall of a house last year.

“[T]he numerous and valuable finds in the form of bronze and gold objects are unique in this part of Europe, and so is the fact that the settlement in Ebreichsdorf … was so large,” Sip tells PAP.

Soon after the find’s discovery, the Austrian government stepped in to ensure the artefacts’ safety. The golden bowl will soon go on view at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

“The discovery of a treasure hidden 3,000 years ago was spectacular,” Christoph Bazil, president of the Austrian Federal Monuments Office, tells Remonews. “[We] immediately placed the richly decorated gold bowl, the gold spirals and the remnants of a gold woven fabric under protection due to their importance at the European level.

The Ebreichsdorf archaeological excavation goes down in history with this golden treasure.”

Speaking with Austrian broadcaster, Franz Bauer, director of ÖBB-Infrastruktur AG, which oversees the country’s rail transport, says the bowl’s presence suggests the region had “intensive trade relations” with other European settlements. It was likely made elsewhere and brought to Ebreichsdorf.

Though archaeologists found the artefacts in 2020, authorities decided to hold off on disclosing the news until a detailed analysis could be completed. Excavations will continue at the site for the next six months.

31,000-year-old burial holds the world’s oldest known identical twins

31,000-year-old burial holds the world’s oldest known identical twins

The presence in the history of human twins is not unheard of. It is nothing short of fascinating to find relatively well-preserved skeletons of a pair of baby twins from thousands of years ago, though.

A burial site from 31,000 years ago was found by an international team of scientists, and in it, the world’s oldest known buried remains of identical twins.

The graves of the Upper Paläolithic period, which lasted from 40,000 to 10,000 years ago, are widely known as the Old Stone Age, according to a team of multidisciplinary researchers. The scientists found not only the remains of the two twins in the burial site, but also a third infant, who is most likely a cousin.

31,000-year-old burial holds the world's oldest known identical twins
The twin infants’ double burial was unearthed in Krems am Wachtberg, Austria.

“To discover multiple burials from the Paleolithic period is a speciality in itself. The fact that sufficient and high-quality old DNA could be extracted from the fragile, child’s skeletal remains for a genome analysis exceeded all of our expectations and can be compared to a lottery ticket,” said, Maria Teschler-Nicola, lead researcher of the study, in a statement.

Together In Death

The oval-shaped grave of the twins was located at an archaeological dig in Krems-Wachtberg, an ancient settlement, along the banks of the Danube River near the town centre of Krems an der Donau, Austria in 2005. Found covered in ochre— and earthy pigment consisting of ferric oxide that was used in burials in ancient times—where the mortal remains of the two babies.

In order to confirm the relationship between the infants, the archaeologists conducted a genomic analysis of the ancient DNA.

The examination led the authors to conclude that two were not just twins, but identical twins. Also, the third baby, believed to be around 3-months-old and buried around 1.5 meters (5 feet) from where the twins were laid to rest, was possibly a cousin.

Another interesting aspect of the finding was that the twin, who lived for a few weeks longer than his brother, was reburied along with him after his demise. Therefore, reopening of the grave would have been required for the “reburial”.

This confirms a newly uncovered cultural-historical phenomenon of opening graves for re-interring corpses—something that was not known for the Paleolithic period.

Buried With ‘Treasures’

Grave goods in the twins’ burial included mammoth-ivory beads (top and bottom left), a perforated fox incisor (far right) and three perforated molluscs (second to right).

The twins were not buried without any treasures. Unearthed in the graves of the brothers were 53 beads fashioned out of mammoth ivory which were probably strung on a thread like a necklace.

Along with the beads, a pierced fox incisor and three perforated molluscs, which were likely pendants on a necklace, were also found according to the study. Protecting the infant bodies from the elements above, a mammoth shoulder blade had been placed over their bodies.

Their supposed cousin, who was buried not far from them, was also smeared in ochre. In his possession was a mammoth-ivory pin measuring 8 centimetres (3 inches), which might have been used to hold a leather garment in place during the burial, explained the researchers.

Life, Struggles and Death

The twins’ bodies were covered with the red pigment ochre.

While the genetic analysis revealed the relationship between the three ancient remains, a scrutiny of the upper lateral deciduous incisors aided the researchers in pinpointing their age.

The authors focused on the “newborn line or neonatal line (NNL)—a dark line on the tooth enamel which separates enamel that was formed prenatally from the enamel formed post-birth.

The NNL, along with the skeletal structures suggested that the brothers completed nearly-full or full term, and belonged to a hunter-gatherer group. Upon chemical analysis of several elements in the tooth enamel, including isotopes such as barium, carbon, and nitrogen, it was learnt that the twins had been breastfed.

The authors posited that one of the babies died not long after birth, while his twin brother survived only for 6-7 weeks. The cause of their death, however, is yet to be ascertained.

Though their cousin lived for three months, the “stress lines” on his teeth indicate that he was marred by feeding difficulties. This probably was because his mother struggled from mastitis—a painful infection of the breast—or succumbed during childbirth.

According to the authors, the early deaths of the babies is perhaps a reflection of a lean phase of food supply among the Paleolithic hunter-gatherer group who settled in the area 30,000 years ago.