Who’s a Good Archaeologist? Dog Digs Up Trove of Bronze Age Relics
Is this the world’s least likely archaeologist? A dog named Monty, who was out for a walk in the Czech village of Kostelecké Horky this past March, began excitedly digging in a field when he, miraculously, discovered a buried cache of rare Bronze Age artefacts.
The dog helped uncover 13 sickles, two spear points, three axes, and a number of bracelets, all-around 3,000 years old.
Monty’s owner, identified only as “Mr Frankota,” received a 7,860 CZK ($360) reward for turning over the artefacts, Smithsonian magazine reports.
“The fact that there are so many objects in one place is almost certainly tied to an act of honorarium, most likely a sacrifice of some sorts,” archaeologist Martina Beková, of the Museum and Gallery of Orlické Mountains in Rychnov told Radio Praha.
“What particularly surprised us was that the objects were whole, because the culture that lived here at the time normally just buried fragments, often melted as well.
These objects are beautiful, but the fact that they are complete and in good condition is of much more value to us.”
Archaeologists believe the artefacts are from the Urnfield period of the late European Bronze Age, named for the communities that were increasingly cremating their dead and burying them in urns.
The artefacts are currently on view in the town of Kostelec nad Orlicí through September 21 as part of the exhibition “Journey to the Beginning of Time.”
The ancient objects will then undergo conservation before being put on permanent display at the Kostelec palace.
Monty’s sharp nose has left the experts wondering what else might be uncovered in the area.
45,000-year-old Skull From Czech Cave May Contain Oldest Modern Human Genome
In the heart of the limestone region of Bohemian Karst in the Czech Republic stands the steep frontal walls of the Koněprusy Caves, within which researchers found the “golden horse” — what they claim are the remains of the earliest modern human in all of Europe.
The genome sequence from a skull found in the cave system is over 45,000 years old, which is roughly around the time modern humans migrated out of Africa and into Eurasia according to the study’s authors who published their findings Tuesday in Nature Ecology & Evolution.
The subject specimen, named Zlatý kůň (golden horse in Czech) by researchers, belonged to a population of non-African people that lived during the last glacial period whose ancestors no longer exist in the present day.
Zlatý kůň has long been the subject of scrutiny and also of at least one mix-up, thanks to a cow.
Zlatý kůň is a largely complete skull that was found with other skeletal remains in 1950 inside the cave system that is the present-day Czech Republic.
Previous observers thought that Zlatý kůň was at least 30,000 years old. Now, other ancient artefacts have been traced back to around the time when the first modern humans settled in Europe and Asia more than 40,000 years ago, according to the study’s authors.
There was “Ust’-Ishim, a Siberian individual who showed no genetic continuity to later Eurasians” and who’s DNA was around 45,000 years old, the study notes.
Zlatý kůň was thought to be an ancient specimen, but radiocarbon dating showed results that dated to as recent as 15,000 years ago. But if Zlatý kůň could tell her own story she would have said that wasn’t the full picture.
“We found evidence of cow DNA contamination in the analyzed bone, which suggests that a bovine-based glue used in the past to consolidate the skull was returning radiocarbon dates younger than the fossil’s true age,” Cosimo Posth, co-lead author of the study, said in a statement.
Simply put, another researcher at a previous date used animal glue to hold together Zlatý kůň’s skull. But it wasn’t the animal DNA that intrigued researchers at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
They were interested in the Neanderthal DNA because Zlatý kůň carried the same amount of Neanderthal DNA as Ust’-Ishim. On average, Zlatý kůň’s DNA ancestry segments were much longer.
Kay Prüfer, the study co-author from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, said Zlatý kůň lived closer to the time when Neanderthals were interbreeding with modern humans.
Prüfer said in an email that Zlatý kůň does not belong to any present-day groups. One theory is Zlatý kůň’s group was wiped out by another catastrophic event.
“We speculate that a large volcanic eruption that happened in Italy (about) 39,000 years ago may have contributed to their and the European Neandertals demise,” said Prüfer.
The volcanic eruption would have drastically changed the climate in the northern hemisphere and made it extremely difficult to survive in large swaths of Ice Age Europe.
“It is quite intriguing that the earliest modern humans in Europe ultimately didn’t succeed,” study lead author Johannes Krause and director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology said in a statement.
Zlatý kůň’s own demise is unclear. Researchers found hyena chew marks on her skull and then there was the cow mix-up, but DNA tests show that she beat out Ust’-Ishim by a few hundred years to be one of the oldest modern humans in Europe, according to the study’s authors.
Fifth-Century A.D. Cemetery Uncovered in the Czech Republic
Expats CZ reports that six graves dated to the fifth century A.D. have been found in the East Bohemia region of the Czech Republic. One of the graves was intact, according to archaeologist Pavel Horník of the Museum of Eastern Bohemia, while the others had been looted shortly after the burials took place.
The site was discovered in 2019 by archaeologists from the Museum of Eastern Bohemia in Hradec Králové (MVČ HK), and the first findings were just made public. The site has been dated to the fifth century AD, around the time of the collapse of the western part of the Roman Empire and the start of the Dark Ages. The era was known for migration and instability.
Graves from this time are rare. “In Eastern Bohemia, this is only the second chamber grave from the period of the migration that has been explored.
The first in the region was a grave in Plotiště nad Labem, discovered in the 1960s. It was the burial of an elderly man with a child,” MVČ HK archaeologist Pavel Horník said.
One of six graves in the newly discovered site at the village of Sendražice, just outside the city of Hradec Králové, was exceptional. It had escaped the attention of grave robbers who plundered the other five shortly after the burials took place.
“Most of the graves were looted in the spirit of those times. An exception was the grave belonging to a woman between 35 and 50 years old. This grave can be described as extraordinary in the whole of the Czech Republic,” Horník said.
The artefacts from all of the graves are being examined by experts from Masaryk University in Brno, the University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague, the Institute of Archeology of the Czech Academy of Sciences, the Mining Museum in Příbram, and the Max Planck Institute in Germany.
Precious and mundane items both yield secrets
The intact grave chamber, designated grave number two, contained several items of extraordinary historical and artistic quality such as four silver-and-gold clasps inlaid with semi-precious stones and a headdress decorated with gold targets.
Remnants of two different textiles were on the silver-and-gold clasps in the unlooted grave. One of the fabrics belonged to the garment fastened by the buckles, the other to a coat of cloth that covered the woman.
Remains of leather and fur were also found on the buckles, according to research by Helena Březinová from the Institute of Archeology of the Czech Academy of Sciences.
The other five graves were for people between the ages of 16 and 55. While they had been looted, they still contained the remains of funeral offerings such as a short sword, knives, glass and amber beads, metal belt components, decorative shoe fittings, and antler combs.
From the looted grave number five, only an iron knife, beads, and a ceramic vessel survived. Samples from the vessel showed that meat had been cooked in it. The presence of certain acids and fats indicates it was the meat of a ruminant, such as a cow. There were no indications of the presence of plant-based food in any of the graves.
Diseases reveal a hard life
Arthritis was evident in the bones of one of the buried people, possibly due to age and physical exertion. Anthropologist Milada Hylmarová of Masaryk University noted significantly asymmetrical muscles on the lower limbs in one of the graves. Due to the incompleteness of the skeleton, the cause can’t be determined but it could be the result of a stroke.
In another case, traces of cancer were found on a skull and pelvis. Other ailments noted were tooth decay and damage to joints.
High-tech examinations underway
Research is continuing, and should eventually reveal a more complete picture of the lives of the people from the site. The chemical composition of the ceramic vessel could reveal whether it was manufactured in the area or came from elsewhere.
So far, only the gender of the woman in the unlooted grave has been determined with any certainty. Based on the objects found, it is assumed that a man was buried in grave number three and a woman in grave six.
DNA analysis is currently taking place in cooperation with the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig and the Institute of Archeology and Museology of Masaryk University. This could show more about the relationships between the people and where they came from.
Nail allegedly from Jesus’ crucifixion found in a secret chamber in a Czech monastery
A secret chamber of a monastery has been discovered with priceless Christian relics, including a nail allegedly used in Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. Archaeologists working in the Czech Republic’s Milevsko monastery discovered a six-inch-long piece of the nail inside a box with a 21-karat gold cross.
The box was built between 260 and 416 AD and is inscribed with the letters ‘IR,’ which translates to ‘Jesus is King.’ The hidden treasury room, according to experts, was used to conceal rare artefacts from raids by Hussite troops in the early 15th century.
Researchers excavating the scene say that they cannot confirm if the nail came from the true Cross,’ but note the discovery ‘is even greater than the reliquary of St. Maurus, reports the Czech News Agency (ČTK).
The Maurus Reliquary is a large box made of gold that holds fragments from the bodies of three saints: Saint Maurus, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Timothy.
There have also been dozens of nails uncovered that are linked to Jesus’s crucifixion, leading scientists to be skeptical about the recent find.
Jiří Šindelář, who took part in the discovery, told ČTK: ‘Because the Hussites destroyed the archive, there was no information that such a thing was here.’
Šindelář added that the authenticity of the nail will be verified by other scientific expertise sometime next year. Archaeologists have been working at the Milevsko monastery for several months and recently uncovered a secret passage that led to the treasury room.
The monastery was built in 1187 but was captured by Hussites in 1420 and taken over by the group’s nobility. However, before losing their place of worship, those who called the monastery home built a secret room to hide rare and priceless artefacts.
After analyzing the box through radiocarbon dating, the team found it was made with two types of wood. The larch wood, which is found in Israel’s subtropical climate, dates back between 1290 and 1394 AD.
The second sample, which is oak, was found to originate from 260 to 416 AD. A similar discovery was unearthed in October when a team found nails with ancient bone and wood embedded in them.
The nails were allegedly found in Jerusalem, in a first-century burial cave believed to be the resting place of Caiaphas, the Jewish priest who sent Jesus to his death in the Bible.
At some point after the cave was excavated in 1990, however, the nails went missing. Years later, filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici would claim to have found the nails, even claiming that they were used to crucify Jesus himself in the 2011 documentary, Nails Of The Cross.
At the time, scholars slammed the suggestion, denying that the nails Jacobovici had found were the same ones from Caiaphas’ tomb. But now an explosive new study has concluded that the nails are indeed the same ones – and that they were probably used to crucify someone too.
Lead author Dr Aryeh Shimron made the jaw-dropping find after comparing material from the nails with material from the tomb’s ossuaries – limestone boxes used to store the bones of the dead.
He said: ‘The materials invading caves differ subtly from cave to cave depending on topography, soil composition in the area, the microclimate and neighbouring vegetation.
‘Consequently, caves have distinct physical and chemical signatures. The physical and chemical properties of the materials which, over centuries, have invaded the tomb and its ossuaries were investigated.
‘Our analysis clearly and unequivocally demonstrates that these materials are chemically and physically identical to those which have, over centuries, also become attached to the nails. Caiaphas’ cave was the only match for the nails out of 25 tombs tested, Dr Shimron found.
He continued: ‘We have also discovered fine slivers of wood accreted within the iron oxide rust of the nails.
‘It is well preserved and entirely petrified* the wood is therefore ancient and not a chance or man-made fake attachment to the nails. Within the rust and sediment attached to the nails, we also identified and photographed a number of microscopic fragments of bone.’
7,000-year-old well is the oldest wooden structure ever discovered
In what is now the Czech Republic, archaeologists have found a 7,000-year-old well built by Neolithic settlers. Researchers determined it to be the oldest wooden architectural building in the world after studying the structure.
The structure was first uncovered by construction workers in 2018 in Ostrov, between the regions of Bohemia and Moravia.
The growth rings in the wood, a method known as dendrochronology, were studied by archaeologists and concluded that it was made from oak cut down around 5255 B.C.
Experts at the University of Pardubice plan to preserve the well, which is currently being stored in a climate-controlled cellar at the school, located east of Prague.
“It is by far the oldest object that we will be working on at the faculty, and it will not be an easy task,” Karol Bayer, Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Restoration at the university, said in a statement.
Bayer said the structure was well-preserved because it remained underwater for centuries. The preservation process will now take several months to complete, to ensure the wooden pieces do not fall apart after drying.
“Now we cannot let it dry out, or the well would be destroyed,” Bayer said. “That is why we will gradually replace the water with a new preservative that each of us knows and uses. It is saccharose. So we will increase the concentration of the sugar solution,”
The well measures about 55 inches in height, with a square base of about 32 by 32 inches. The design reveals that Neolithic people were capable of more advanced architectural techniques than previously thought.
The structure, built with grooved corner posts with inserted planks, also highlights the builders’ advanced carpentry abilities — unknown across the continent during the Neolithic period, the later portion of the Stone Age.
The structure was said to be constructed with the “utmost precision” even though the only tools available at the time consisted of stone, bone, horn, and wood.
“The shape of the individual structural elements and tool marks preserved on their surface confirm sophisticated carpentry skills,” the researchers said.
During a preliminary analysis, experts found evidence of many invertebrate animals and small vertebrate bones, shellfish, crustacean eggs, and insects.
Researchers were also able to deduce some information on the environment and economy of these farmers after identifying the residue of crop plant species, including prehistoric wheat, flax, and opium poppy.
This well is the third Neolithic well found in the country in four years.
A man picking mushrooms in the Czech republic discovers a rare 3000-year-old sword
A man hunting for mushrooms found came away with more than just a bunch of fungus – he discovered two rare Bronze Age weapons. Roman Novák was foraging for fungi after a rainstorm in Jesenick, a small town about 150 miles from Prague when he noticed a piece of metal jutting out of the ground.
Examining it closer, Novák realized it was part of a sword, dating back some 3,300 years ago.
Digging some more, he also uncovered a bronze axe from the same era nearby. The discovery has led local archaeologists to plan an excavation in the area.
‘It had just rained and I went mushroom-picking,’ Novák told Radio Prague International. As I went, I saw a piece of metal sticking out of some stones. I kicked it and found that it was a blade, part of a sword.’
Archaeologists who examined both pieces say they date to about 1300 BC when Central Europe’s Urnfield culture was just emerging and Jeseník would have been sparsely populated.
Unlike later iron swords, which are hammered into shape while still red hot, bronze swords were made by heating the metal until it turned into a liquid and then pouring it into a mould.
The sword has an octagonal handle, with a bronze hilt intricately carved with circles and crescents. The blade, which is broken near the base but otherwise intact, resemble weapons used mainly in what is now Northern Germany.
‘They were obviously trying their best, but the quality of the casting was actually pretty low,’ said Jiří Juchelka, director of archaeology at the nearby Silesian Museum. ‘X-ray tests show that there are many small bubbles inside the weapon.’
Because of that, Juchelka believes the sword was more ceremonial than something used in combat.
Nevertheless, it’s only the second of its kind found in the region.
‘It is like a puzzle,’ said Milan Rychlý of Jesenick’s Ethnographic Museum. ‘We just have four little shards from the story that took place right now, so we have to start piecing everything together.’
When the excavation of the area is complete, all the items will go on display at the two museums.
Mushroom picking after it rains is a popular hobby in Eastern Europe: Last month a man foraging in north-central Poland literally stumbled across a trove of 17th-century silver coins.
Bogusław Rumiński’s bike got stuck in a rut while he was riding in his tiny village of Jezuicka Struga.
When he put his hands out to stop his fall, Rumiński landed on dozens of silver pieces dating to the reign of King John II Casimir Vasa. The coins, which are in excellent condition, were minted between 1657 and 1667, shortly after the Deluge, an era of frequent wars involving Russia, Poland and Sweden.
Later searching with a metal detector turned up even more coins, bringing the total to 86. Because of the coins’ fine condition, experts believe they were hidden shortly after being produced.
This Astronomical Clock is 6 centuries old and still ticks in Prague
One of the most compelling of landmarks in the Czech Republic is the Astronomical Clock in Prague. Legend dates the clock back to the 15th century when Hanus, a clock master with plenty of experience, was chosen to make a device that not only told the time but which also offered other functions.
The most widespread legend of all dates back probably to the 15th century, around the time the clock appeared. It says that an experienced clock master, known as Hanuš, was selected by the city councillors of Prague to produce an original device that would not only measure the time but also have a few other functionalities.
However, the councillors were worried about whether Hanuš might produce another, similar-looking clock for another city. Which is how they started thinking of ways to eliminate any such possibility, and eventually they came up with a sick plan.
One night, they sent people to break into the home of the clock master to injure his eyes with a chunk of iron, leaving him blind.
It was not that Hanuš couldn’t figure who committed this wrongdoing, so in revenge, with a little help of his apprentice, he went to his creation and made the clock halt. As the story goes, over 100 years passed before the clock was brought to life again.
Like many other versions of the legend, this one attributes the clock’s craftsmanship to the wrong person.
According to a paper that contains an insightful description of how the clock’s astronomical dial works, discovered in 1961, the creator was the Imperial clock-producer Mikuláš of Kadaň. He devised the piece in 1410, helped by astronomer and university teacher Jan Sindel.
On a few occasions during its history, the machinery of the Astronomical Clock has failed. Therefore, the device needed to undergo maintenance.
No one knew how to fix it though, so when the clock stopped sometime during the late 18th century, local officials even considered replacing it with another piece.
Luckily they didn’t, but for an extended period, the device was simply not working. The long-needed repair came many decades later, around 1865, when one of the clock’s newest features was added, the Calendar Dial.
It is one of the most famous clocks around the world, but it also makes for the third-oldest astronomical clock and the oldest one still in use. Its age and authenticity are some of the reasons why people gather each hour in front of the Old Town Hall Tower where the Astronomical clock wisely sits, to watch how it chimes the hour, an experience that lasts just 45 seconds.
When it does chime the hour, the window of the clock in the upper part shows the 12 apostles moving. Simultaneously, the surrounding sculptures that adorn the device are set in motion.
One of the moving figures carrying an hourglass in his hand personifies Death. Another moving figurine has a mirror, representing Vanity. Other figurines, such as those of the Astronomer, the Philosopher, or the Chronicler, appear to be motionless. However, several of these figures are replicas because their originals were severely damaged by the Germans at the end of World War Two.
The Astronomical Dial is probably the oldest of all clock components and is one of the main reasons why the Prague clock is so unique. This element splendidly illustrates how people of the medieval era observed the universe. Of course, it is the Earth represented in the centre of it. The dial’s bits of the blue stand for the skies beyond the horizon, while a brownish counterpart stands for the skies below it.
Inscribed Latin letters further indicate which side is east and which one is west; north and south are in this case replaced by denotations for “above” and “below” the horizon, both marked with Latin words for “dawn” and “twilight” respectively.
A zodiac circle stands for the stars up above and it runs in harmony with them, and the two clock hands display the symbols of our closest stellar bodies, the sun and the Moon.
The three sets of this dial can count three different times. The first is the Italian time or what would be Old Czech time. Central European Time is measured by the sun pointer and this is the hour, from 1 to 24, which the clock chimes. It was once set to measure Old German Time, but before that, it counted the hour according to Bohemian Time.
The third is likely the most interesting of all sets, measuring Babylonian Time where the hour’s length is determined by which season of the year it is. During summer the hour is longer; in winter it’s shorter. This device is the only clock one on the entire planet known to be capable of tracking Babylonian Time.
In comparison with the Astronomical dial, the Calendar one has fewer functionalities, but it is brilliant anyway. In its centre, it shows the symbol of the Old Town of Prague and its outer ring reads the description of each day for all year round. The current day is shown at the very top. Each month is also represented by a zodiac sign situated in a medallion.
Little did we know there were so many ways to measure and represent time.
A cache of 14th-Century Coins Discovered in the Czech Republic
PLZEŇ, CZECH REPUBLIC—Radio Prague International reports that hundreds of fourteenth-century coins were discovered in the western Czech Republic, near the Kladruby Monastery, by a couple out for a walk.
“As they were walking through the forest, they spotted a few coins, two made of gold and one of silver, lying on the ground,” explained archaeologist Milan Metlička of the Museum of West Bohemia.
The West Bohemian Museum in Plzeň confirmed hundreds of 14th century silver and gold coins have been found. The cache, discovered in a forest near the Kladruby Monastery in Tachov area, is believed to be one of the largest uncovered troves of gold coins on Czech Republic territory.
The chance discovery occurred already in March, during the coronavirus lockdown, but it was not until this Monday that the museum announced the find to the public.
The coins were stumbled upon by a young couple who went on a walk through the forest near the West Bohemian town of Stříbro.
Milan Metlička is an archaeologist from the Museum of West Bohemia in Plzeň:
“As they were walking through the forest, they spotted a few coins, two made of gold and one of silver, lying on the ground. They were probably dug up by some forest animals, most likely by wild pigs.
“There was a large stone protruding from the ground. When they pulled it out, they saw a large amount of gold and silver coins underneath and they immediately called us to announce the discovery.”
Among the coins are gold ducats bearing the image of the Czech King and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, Albrecht of Austria, and Rupert of the Palatinate as well as ducats from the Hanseatic city of Lübeck.
“It also contains 343 silver groschen mostly minted in Bohemia during the reign of Charles IV and several groshen bearing the image of John of Bohemia, the Duke of Luxembourg.
“The discovery of the silver groshen is not that unusual. But such a large trove of gold coins is really unique. No such discovery was made in the country in the past 50 years.”
Archaeologists believe the coins were buried in the ground in the late 1370s. While the reason why someone hid the treasure is likely to remain unknown, it was most likely linked to the nearby Monastery in Kladruby.
“The monastery was located on a strategic medieval trade route between Prague and Nürnberg. And since the discovery was made not far from there and close to the royal town of Stříbro, it is very likely that it is somehow connected to it.”
According to Mr. Metlička, it is hard to express the value of the find in terms of money, but the nominal value of the gold coins, which weigh over 325 grams, is at least CZK 420,000.
“With the silver coins, it is more complicated, because they also contain copper, which reduced their value. However, the historic value of the silver coins could be around CZK 180,000 and the value of the gold coins could range between CZK three and four million.”
The coins are expected to go on display in the Museum of West Bohemia in Plzeň at the end of this year or at the beginning of next year after they have been restored and catalogued.