Category Archives: EUROPE

‘Oh wow’: remarkable Roman mosaic found in Rutland field

‘Oh wow’: remarkable Roman mosaic found in Rutland field

Archaeologists have unearthed the first Roman mosaic of its kind in the UK, a rare Roman mosaic and surrounding villa complex have been protected as a Scheduled Monument by DCMS on the advice of Historic England. The decision follows archaeological work undertaken by a team from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS), working in partnership with Historic England and in liaison with Rutland County Council.

The initial discovery of the mosaic was made during the 2020 lockdown by Jim Irvine, son of landowner Brian Naylor, who contacted the archaeological team at Leicestershire County Council, heritage advisors to the local authority. Given the exceptional nature of this discovery, Historic England was able to secure funding for urgent archaeological investigations of the site by ULAS in August 2020. Further excavation involving staff and students from the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History examined more of the site in September 2021. The remains of the mosaic measure 11m by almost 7m and depict part of the story of the Greek hero Achilles.

The artwork forms the floor of what’s thought to be a large dining or entertaining area. Mosaics were used in a variety of private and public buildings across the Roman Empire, and often featured famous figures from history and mythology. However, the Rutland mosaic is unique in the UK in that it features Achilles and his battle with Hector at the conclusion of the Trojan War and is one of only a handful of examples from across Europe.

The mosaic depicts scenes from Homer’s The Iliad, about the epic fight between Achilles and the Trojan hero, Hector.

The room is part of a large villa building occupied in the late Roman period, between the 3rd and 4th century AD. The villa is also surrounded by a range of other buildings and features revealed by a geophysical survey and archaeological evaluation, including what appear to be aisled barns, circular structures and a possible bathhouse, all within a series of boundary ditches. The complex is likely to have been occupied by a wealthy individual, with a knowledge of classical literature.

Fire damage and breaks in the mosaic suggest that the site was later re-used and re-purposed. Other evidence uncovered includes the discovery of human remains within the rubble covering the mosaic. These burials are thought to have been interred after the building was no longer occupied, and while their precise age is currently unknown, they are later than the mosaic but placed in a relationship to the villa building, suggesting a very late Roman or Early-Medieval date for the repurposing of this structure. Their discovery gives an insight into how the site may have been used during this relatively poorly understood early post-Roman period of history.

Human remains have been found at the site.

Evidence recovered from the site will be analysed by ULAS at their University of Leicester base and by specialists from Historic England and across the UK, including David Neal, the foremost expert on mosaic research in the country.

The protection as a scheduled monument recognises the exceptional national importance of this site. It ensures these remains are legally protected and helps combat unauthorised works or unlawful activities such as illegal metal detecting. The site has been thoroughly examined and recorded as part of the recent investigations and has now been backfilled to protect it for future generations.

The villa complex was found within an arable field where the shallow archaeological remains had been disturbed by ploughing and other activities. Historic England is working with the landowner to support the reversion of these fields to sustainable grassland and pasture use. These types of agri-environment schemes are an essential part of how we can protect both the historic and natural environments and have contributed around £13 million per year towards the conservation and maintenance of our rural heritage. They help to preserve sites like the Rutland mosaic so that people can continue to enjoy and learn about our fascinating history.

In collaboration with the University of Leicester and other stakeholders, Historic England is planning further excavations on the site for 2022.

Discussions are ongoing with Rutland County Council to explore the opportunity for an off-site display and interpretation of the villa complex and its finds. The form and scope of this work will be informed by the proposed future excavations and will be the subject of a future National Lottery Heritage Fund bid.

Image of the full mosaic in situ, displaying three panels (with damage) featuring Achilles.

The site is on private land and not accessible to the public.

John Thomas, Deputy Director of ULAS and project manager on the excavations, said: “This is certainly the most exciting Roman mosaic discovery in the UK in the last Century. It gives us fresh perspectives on the attitudes of people at the time, their links to classical literature, and it also tells us an enormous amount about the individual who commissioned this piece. This is someone with a knowledge of the classics, who had the money to commission a piece of such detail, and it’s the very first depiction of these stories that we’ve ever found in Britain.

“The fact that we have the wider context of the surrounding complex is also hugely significant because previous excavations on Roman villas have only been able to capture partial pictures of settlements like these, but this appears to be a very well-preserved example of a villa in its entirety.”

Jim Irvine, who initially discovered the remains, said: “A ramble through the fields with the family turned into an incredible discovery. Finding some unusual pottery amongst the wheat piqued my interest and prompted some further investigative work. Later, looking at the satellite imagery I spotted a very clear crop mark as if someone had drawn on my computer screen with a piece of chalk! This really was the ‘oh wow’ moment and the beginning of the story.

This archaeological discovery has filled most of my spare time over the last year. Between my normal job and this, it’s kept me very busy and has been a fascinating journey. The last year has been a total thrill to have been involved with and to work with the archaeologists and students at the site, and I can only imagine what will be unearthed next!”

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said: “To have uncovered such a rare mosaic of this size, as well as a surrounding villa, is remarkable. Discoveries like this are so important in helping us piece together our shared history. By protecting this site we are able to continue learning from it, and look forward to what future excavations may teach us about the people who lived there over 1,500 years ago.”

Richard Clark, County Archaeologist for Leicestershire and Rutland, said: “This has been the most extraordinary of discoveries, and for that, full tribute must be paid to Jim and his family for their prompt and responsible actions. It has been a privilege to have been involved in the investigation and a pleasure to have worked with such a skilled group of amateurs and professionals. The villa, its mosaic and the surrounding complex is the most outstanding find in the recent archaeological history of Rutland, placing the county on a national and international stage and providing a vivid insight into the life and demise of the local Romano-British elite at a time of remarkable change and upheaval. The final phase of burials is just one of many intriguing aspects to the investigation, suggesting a continuing knowledge and respect for the site in the post-Roman period.”

Nigel Huddleston, Heritage Minister, said: “This fascinating discovery of an elaborate Roman complex in Rutland is helping us to understand more about our history. I’m delighted we have protected this site to help further studies and excavations.”

‘Oh wow’: remarkable Roman mosaic found in Rutland field
An aerial view of the archaeological site, photographed by drone.

Professor Nishan Canagarajah, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester, said: “It is difficult to overstate the importance of this discovery, and the excitement which it will doubtless provide to countless people; from those well-versed in Roman archaeology to those with perhaps only a passing interest. Having been lucky enough to visit the site myself, and meet some of the Leicester students from our School of Archaeology and Ancient History gaining real-world experience with ULAS on this major project, I witnessed first-hand the thorough but careful work which our archaeologists have undertaken to further our understanding of Roman Britain.”

The discovery of the Rutland villa and filming as the mosaic is uncovered for the first time in 1600 years will be featured as part of Digging for Britain when it returns to BBC Two and iPlayer in early 2022.

Host, Professor Alice Roberts, said: “What I love about Digging for Britain is that, when we set out to film the series, we have no idea what discoveries might come to light. This year, the revelations have been nothing short of spectacular, and each find brings us closer to understanding the lives of people who once lived in Britain. Archaeology brings you into intimate contact with the physical reality of the past.”

Skull 5 – A Million Years Old Human Skull Forced Scientists To Rethink Early Human Evolution

Skull 5 – A Million Years Old Human Skull Forced Scientists To Rethink Early Human Evolution

Researchers have traditionally used differences among fossilized remains of ancient humans to define separate species among the earliest members of our Homo genusHomo erectus, Homo habilis, and Homo rudolfensis, for example.

Skull 5 – A Million Years Old Human Skull Forced Scientists To Rethink Early Human Evolution
A 1.8-million-year-old skull combines a small braincase with a long face and large teeth, which is unlike any other Homo fossils on record.

But an amazing new skull found in a republic of Georgia suggests that the specimens previously representing different species could come from a single, evolving lineage, according to a new report published in Science.

So-called “Skull 5” was dug up in Dmanisi, Georgia, between 2000 and 2005. It’s believed to date back roughly 1.8 million years and comes from the same time period and location as four other skulls found earlier at Dmanisi.

Skull 5 is unique not only because it is the most complete Homo skull ever found, but it also looks very different from the other skulls found at this site. It combines a small braincase — about one-third the size of modern humans — with a large face that has a massive jaw and big teeth.

“This is a strange combination of features that we didn’t know before in the early Homo,” Marcia S. Ponce de León, from the Anthropological Institute and Museum in Switzerland, said in a media conference.

The complete skull “skull 5” (far right), was found alongside the remains of four other human ancestors.

Researchers have found fragments of other skulls from this time period — from other places in Africa and also Dmanisi —  but they are not complete and belong to adolescents.

Skull 5 provides the first evidence of how the face and jawbone of the full-grown early Homo were “oriented and positioned relative to the braincase,” according to the study.

Even though the Dmanisi fossils have different physical traits, researchers believe that all five skulls come from the same ancient population — a species that they say is most consistent with Homo erectus because of particular traits, like the shape of the braincase.

Skull 5 in National Museum

The strong variation seen within what’s believed to be a single species means that other Homo fossils from Africa could belong to that same, single lineage — they just have diverse appearances. “[The Dmanisi finds] look quite different from one another, so it’s tempting to publish them as different species,” Christoph Zollikofer from the Anthropological Institute and Museum said in a statement.”Yet we know that these individuals came from the same location and the same geological time, so they could, in principle, represent a single population of a single species.”

Researchers point out that the variations in brain size among the Dmanisi skulls are analogous to what we would see among five randomly chosen humans or chimpanzees today.

“It’s about the difference between a brain of 1.2 litres and 1.6 or 7 litres,” Zollikofer told reporters. The complete skull, “skull 5,” was found alongside the remains of four other human ancestors.

Archaeologists are still not sure if African fossils that pre-date the Dmanisi specimens — anything that is older than 1.8 to 1.9 million years and currently classified as Homo habilis or Homo rudolfensis — can be lumped into one species because the fossil remains are too scattered and not in good condition.

It’s also not clear what happened to Homo erectus after the date associated with the Dmanisi finds. 

“We now have one global human species,” Zollikofer said. “What we can infer is that 1.8 million years ago there were another single global species.” He added: “We don’t know how Homo erectus connects to ourselves. That is the big question.”

Ancient silver plate adorned with winged gods and griffins is found inside the wooden tomb of a warrior

Ancient silver plate adorned with winged gods and griffins is found inside the wooden tomb of a warrior who died in the 4th century BC in Russia

Expedition members of IA RAS have found a unique plate depicting winged Scythian gods surrounded by griffons during their excavations of the burial ground Devitsa V in Ostrogozhsky District of Voronezh region.

This is the first case of such a finding in the Scythian barrows on Middle Don. No other items depictions of gods from the Scythian pantheon have been found in this area.

“The finding has made an important contribution to our concepts of Scythian beliefs. Firstly, a particular number of gods are depicted at once on one item. Secondly, it has never happened before that an item with depicted gods has been found so far from the north-east of the main Scythian centers,” said the head of the Don expedition, Prof. Valeriy Gulyaev.

Ancient silver plate adorned with winged gods and griffins is found inside the wooden tomb of a warrior who died in the 4th century BC in Russia
Silverplate with a depiction of Scythian Gods and eagle head griffons.

Burial ground Devitsa V—named after the neighbouring village area—was found in 2000 by the Don archaeological expedition of IA RAS.

The site is situated on the hill of the right bank of the river Devitsa and is a group of 19 mounds which are situated in two parallel chains stretched from west to east. However, the significant part of ancient barrows has already disappeared: the necropolis area belongs to an agricultural sector and is being actively plowed.

Since 2010 the site has been systematically studied by the specialists from the Don expedition of IA RAS. During the cemetery excavations, some great discoveries have already been made.

In 2019 in barrow 9 a burial was found which held the remains of a woman-warrior and an old lady in ceremonial female headwear known as a calathus.

In a field season in 2021, the Don archaeological expedition continued studying the necropolis. Archaeologists started the excavation of mound 7 in the central part of the cemetery Devitsa V in the vicinity of barrow 9.

The main grave referred to the Scythian times and dated back to the 4th century BC was located almost under the center of one mound and was a wooden tomb of 7.5×5 meters. In ancient times it was covered with oak half beams which were held by the seventeen large oak pillars on the gravesides. This is the biggest grave among all found in Devitsa V necropolis.

The barrow had already been plundered in ancient times. The robbers laid a wide test pit and “cleaned” a central part of the burial including the skeleton. However, by the time of the plundering the roof of the tomb had already fallen and that is why in the mixture of soil and tree remnants on the gravesides some grave goods have been preserved. Found items completely match the main elements of the Scythian “triad.” Equipment, harness, and “animal style” artifcats were found in a warrior’s grave.

There was a skeleton of a man of 40-49 years old in the grave. Next to his head archaeologists found many small gold semi-sphere plates which were decorated the funeral bed. Along with the skeleton an iron knife and a horse rib (likely, the remains of the ceremonial food), a spearhead, and three javelin’s heads were found.

The scientists have been able to reconstruct the length of the weapon relying on that the counterweights of the lower part of the polearm that have been remained untouched. The spear was about 3.2 meters long, and the javelines’ length was about 2.2 meters.

In the southeast corner of the grave were fragments of three horse harness items: horse-bits, girth buckles, iron browbands, as well as iron, bronze, and bone Scythian pendants.

The archaeologists have also found six bronze plates in the shape of wolves with grin laws which were decorated with horse cheeks—two on each harness. Next to the horse harness was a cut jaw of a young bear which testifies, according to the scientists, to the bear cult at the Scythes of Middle Don.

Apart from it a moulded cup and a big, black-glazed vessel have been found in different parts of the tomb.

In the northeast part of the grave separate from other items and a few meters far from the skeleton a silver square plate nailed by many small silver nails to a wooden base was found. The length of the plate was 34.7 cm, with the width in the middle part 7.5 cm.

READ ALSO: DNA SHOWS SCYTHIAN WARRIOR MUMMY WAS A 13-YEAR-OLD GIRL

In the central part of the plate is a winged figure facing a Goddess of animal and human fertility. The Goddess is known as Argimpasa, Cybele. The upper part of her body is stripped, and there is headwear, likely a crown with horns, on her head.

The Goddess is surrounded on both sides with the figures of winged eagle-headed griffons. Depictions of this type, where the traditions of Asia Minor and ancient Greek are mixed, are often found in excavations of the Scythian barrows of the Northern Sea region, the Dnieper forest-steppe region, and the Northern Caucasus.

The left side of the plate is formed by two square plates decorated with the depictions of syncretic creatures standing in a so-called heraldic pose (in front of each other, close to each other with their paws). From the right side, two round buckles are attached to the plate on each of which one anthropomorphic character with a crown on his head standing surrounded by two griffons is depicted. Who those characters are and which item was decorated by this plate remains an open issue.

Traces of Medieval Madrassa Uncovered in Turkey

Traces of Medieval Madrassa Uncovered in Turkey

The ruins of a 12th-century madrassa (Islamic school) have been discovered in Turkey’s southeast, one of the world’s oldest settlements on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List, said the archaeologist leading the dig.

Excavation work has been going on for eight years in the Harran settlement in the Sanliurfa province, Mehmet Onal, head of the Archeology Department at Harran University, told Anadolu Agency.

Harran, a onetime Assyrian and Umayyad capital located 44 kilometres (27 miles) southeast of the city of Sanliurfa near the Syrian border, was an important Mesopotamian trade centre on a road running south to Nineveh in modern Iraq and has been continuously inhabited since 6,000 B.C.

Saying that Harran is frequently mentioned in history books because it is one of the world’s oldest settlements, Onal added that during 2021 excavations, they found important remains such as a street, a monumental gate, and a madrassa.

Monumental find

“During the excavations, a madrassa was found, which we have determined with archaeological evidence that it belongs to the Zengid era,” said Onal.

“Previously, it was known that Harran had five madrassas. This was the first time we came across one of these known madrassas of Harran.”

He said they have determined the structure had 24 rooms above ground, and have now completely exposed the monumental door of the madrassa with five rooms, and the portico partially, adding that there is also a kitchen next to those rooms with large stoves and a brick and clay oven.

“Another feature of the kitchen is there are many bones of sheep and goats inside the hearths and ovens. This shows us that food was prepared here and people here left the city in a rush, leaving the food on the stove without being eaten as if thoroughly convinced that Mongols would take over the city.”

Onal said that they determined that the madrasa belongs to the 12th century and that they will learn more after excavations in the region are completed.

World’s first university

Cihat Koc, a local official in Harran, said the history of education in Harran dates back to 3,000 B.C., adding that studies were carried out in such fields as astronomy, mathematics, philosophy, and theology.

Harran is a place that pioneered the science and scientific education, Koc said, adding: “With our work this year, we have unearthed the first of the five big madrassas, five big university campuses.

“The world’s first university is at Harran. We are seriously working to uncover all the ruins of this university,” he underlined.

The first excavations in Harran began in 1950.

The site has been on UNESCO’s tentative list since 2000.

READ ALSO: ARCHAEOLOGISTS IDENTIFY THE OLDEST MUSLIM GRAVES EVER FOUND IN EUROPE

Harran is an important ancient city where trade routes from Iskenderun to Antakya (ancient Antioch) and Kargam were located, according to UNESCO’s website.

“The city is mentioned in the Holy Bible,” says the website.

“It is important not only for hosting early civilizations but it is the place where the first Islamic university was founded. The traditional civil architecture, mudbrick houses with conic roofs, are unique.”

Origins of Japanese and Turkish language families traced back 9000 years

Origins of Japanese and Turkish language family traced back 9000 years

A study combining linguistic, genetic and archaeological evidence has traced the origins of the family of languages including modern Japanese, Korean, Turkish and Mongolian and the people who speak them to millet farmers who inhabited a region in northeastern China about 9,000 years ago.

The findings detailed on Wednesday document a shared genetic ancestry for the hundreds of millions of people who speak what the researchers call Transeurasian languages across an area stretching more than 8,000 km.

The findings illustrate how humankind’s embrace of agriculture following the Ice Age powered the dispersal of some of the world’s major language families. Millet was an important early crop as hunter-gatherers transitioned to an agricultural lifestyle.

Origins of Japanese and Turkish language family traced back 9000 years
A woman carrying millet, a crop whose cultivation prompted the spread of the proto-Transeurasian language

There are 98 Transeurasian languages. Among these are Korean and Japanese as well as: various Turkic languages including Turkish in parts of Europe, Anatolia, Central Asia and Siberia; various Mongolic languages including Mongolian in Central and Northeast Asia; and various Tungusic languages in Manchuria and Siberia.

This language family’s beginnings were traced to Neolithic millet farmers in the Liao River valley, an area encompassing parts of the Chinese provinces of Liaoning and Jilin and the region of Inner Mongolia.

As these farmers moved across northeastern Asia, the descendant languages spread north and west into Siberia and the steppes and east into the Korean peninsula and over the sea to the Japanese archipelago over thousands of years. The research underscored the complex beginnings for modern populations and cultures.

“Accepting that the roots of one’s language, culture or people lie beyond the present national boundaries is a kind of surrender of identity, which some people are not yet prepared to make,” said comparative linguist Martine Robbeets, leader of the Archaeolinguistic Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany and lead author of the study published in the journal Nature.

“Powerful nations such as Japan, Korea and China are often pictured as representing one language, one culture and one genetic profile. But a truth that makes people with nationalist agendas uncomfortable is that all languages, cultures and humans, including those in Asia, are mixed,” Robbeets added.

The researchers devised a dataset of vocabulary concepts for the 98 languages, identified a core of inherited words related to agriculture and fashioned a language family tree.

Archaeologist and study co-author Mark Hudson of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History said the researchers examined data from 255 archaeological sites in China, Japan, the Korean peninsula and the Russian Far East, assessing similarities in artefacts including pottery, stone tools and plant and animal remains. They also factored in the dates of 269 ancient crop remains from various sites.

The researchers determined that farmers in northeastern China eventually supplemented millet with rice and wheat, an agricultural package that was transmitted when these populations spread to the Korean peninsula by about 1300 BC and from there to Japan after about 1000 BC.

The researchers performed genomic analyses on the ancient remains of 23 people and examined existing data on others who lived in North and East Asia as long as 9,500 years ago. For example, a woman’s remains found in Yokchido in South Korea had 95% ancestry from Japan’s ancient Jomon people, indicating her recent ancestors had migrated over the sea.

“It is surprising to see that ancient Koreans reflect Jomon ancestry, which so far had only been detected in Japan,” Robbeets said. The origins of modern Chinese languages arose independently, though in a similar fashion with millet also involved.

While the progenitors of the Transeurasian languages grew broomcorn millet in the Liao River valley, the originators of the Sino-Tibetan language family farmed foxtail millet at roughly the same time in China’s Yellow River region, paving the way for a separate language dispersal, Robbeets said.

Archaeologists identify the oldest Muslim graves ever found in Europe

Archaeologists identify oldest Muslim graves ever found in Europe

An archaeological site in northeast Spain holds one of the oldest-known Muslim cemeteries in the country, with the discovery of 433 graves, some dating back to the first 100 years of the Islamic conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. 

Archaeologists think up to 4,500 bodies may have been buried in the ancient necropolis at Tauste over 400 years of Muslim rule.

The finds confirm that the region, along the frontier between the warring Islamic and Christian worlds in the turbulent early Middle Ages, was once dominated by Muslim rulers, who were later replaced by Christian rulers and their history forgotten.

The archaeologists unearthed the ancient graves from a maqbara or Muslim necropolis, dating from between the eighth and the 12th centuries, this summer in the town of Tauste, in the Ebro Valley about 25 miles (40 kilometres) northwest of Zaragoza.

The remains show that the dead were buried according to Muslim funeral rituals and suggest the town was largely Islamic for hundreds of years, despite there being no mention of this phase in local histories.

“The number of people buried in the necropolis and the time it was occupied indicates that Tauste was an important town in the Ebro Valley in Islamic times,” lead archaeologist Eva Giménez of the heritage company Paleoymás told Live Science.

Giménez and the company Paleoymás were contracted for the latest excavations by El Patiaz Cultural Association, which was founded by local people in 1999 to investigate the history of the town.

Their initial excavations in 2010 suggested that a 5-acre (2 hectares) Islamic necropolis at Tauste might hold the remains of up to 4,500 people. But the association’s limited funds meant only 46 graves could be unearthed in the first four years of work.

Giménez said the latest discoveries hint that even more Muslim graves could still be found. “We now have information that indicates that the size of the necropolis is greater than what was known,” she said.

Archaeologists think up to 4,500 bodies may have been buried in the ancient necropolis at Tauste over 400 years of Muslim rule.
The Islamic phase of Tauste’s history had been forgotten – perhaps deliberately – and ancient graves sometimes found in the town were dismissed as those of victims of the 19th-century cholera pandemic.
The latest excavations at Tauste focused on a single road known to pass through the ancient Islamic necropolis. The remains of 433 people were unearthed there who had been buried according to Muslim funeral rituals.

Muslim conquest

The graves date all the way back to the time when Muslim armies from North Africa that were allied with Islam’s Umayyad caliphate in Damascus invaded what is now Spain in A.D. 711. By 718, they had conquered most of the Iberian Peninsula — today’s Spain and Portugal — except for some mountainous regions of the northwest that remained independent Christian kingdoms.

The Muslim invaders, called “Moors” by the Christians, then attempted to conquer Gaul — now France — but were turned back, first at the Battle of Toulouse in 721 and then at the Battle of Tours in 732, where they were defeated by a smaller Frankish army led by the nobleman Charles Martel. It’s said the Frankish use of heavy cavalry played a decisive part in the battle, Live Science previously reported.

After that, Muslim leaders established their rule south of Barcelona and the Pyrenees, the mountain range that divides Spain and France. The Ebro Valley around Zaragoza, however, stayed in Muslim hands.

The Muslim-ruled region became known as al-Andalus — with the “Andal” part possibly from the name of the Vandals the Muslims had conquered — and reached its cultural peak in about the 10th century with advances in mathematics, astronomy and medicine. By some accounts, the regime was relatively benign. Jews and Christians were allowed to practice their religions if they chose not to convert to Islam, but they paid extra tax, called jizya, and were treated as a lower social class than Muslims.

Muslim rule in Spain began to fragment after the 11th century, and the Christian kingdoms in the north grew more powerful. The last Muslim emirate, at Granada, was defeated in 1492 by the armies of Castile in the final battle of the Christian Reconquista led by Isabela and Ferdinand, the first queen and king of Spain. Islam was outlawed, and violent anti-Muslim persecutions continued until the early 17th century.

The influence of Islamic rule has been recognized in nearby parts of the region, but history was silent about the Islamic phase at Tauste.

Ancient graves were sometimes unearthed in the town, but they were dismissed as those of victims of a cholera pandemic that killed almost a quarter-million people in Spain in 1854 and 1855, said Miriam Pina Pardos, the director of the Anthropological Observatory of the Islamic Necropolis of Tauste for El Patiaz.

Unearthing Islam

Some members of El Patiaz suspected an 11th-century church tower in the town had Islamic origins — a suspicion confirmed when examinations showed it was once a minaret in the distinctive Zagri architecture.. 

So in 2010, the group began excavations led by archaeologist Francisco Javier Gutierrez. They learned the ancient graves at Tauste contained individuals buried with Muslim rituals, and not in the style of a mass burial that might have been expected for victims of the cholera pandemic, Pina Pardos said.

For instance, each grave held the remains of a single person, typically placed lying on their right side so that their gaze was oriented toward Mecca, and each was covered with a mound of earth, Gutierrez said. Some may also have had a wooden cover, now missing.

The graves also showed other distinctive Muslim features: They were just large enough to accommodate the body, and the dead were buried in a white shroud, regardless of their social status, she said. To this day, Muslim rituals do not allow the dead to be buried with grave goods, but fragments of ceramics found nearby in the excavations since 2010 showed they dated to between the eighth and 12th centuries, Giménez said.

While the existence of the Islamic graveyard was known from the earlier excavations, “what was not known where the dimensions and density of the tombs,” she said. “It has been expected and unexpected at the same time.”

The latest discoveries, in a single street known to be part of the ancient necropolis, show the extent of Muslim influence in the town over several centuries., 

The cemetery was in use continuously for more than 400 years, they found. “This tells us about a constant and deeply rooted [Islamic] population in Tauste since the beginning of the eighth century,” Giménez said.

Hittite Prince’s Seal and Cuneiform Tablet Uncovered in Turkey

Hittite Prince’s Seal and Cuneiform Tablet Uncovered in Turkey

A 3,250-year-old seal belonging to a Hittite prince and an ancient cuneiform tablet dating back 3,400 years were discovered in Turkey’s southern Hatay province.

Hittite Prince’s Seal and Cuneiform Tablet Uncovered in Turkey

The excavations in Accana Hoyuk of the Reyhanli district in Hatay on behalf of the Culture and Tourism Ministry with the support of the Turkish Historical Society, have been underway for six months.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Murat Akar, the head of the excavation team and Mustafa Kemal University’s Protohistory and Near East Archeology Department chair, said they have had some “thrilling” findings.

An ancient tablet they have unearthed has Akkadian cuneiform texts, Akar noted, saying: “The tablet, around 3,400 years old, and the accompanying cylinder seals give us information about the administration and administrative practices of the region, especially during a period when the region was under the rule of the Mitanni Empire.”

He said they had found a 3,250-year-old seal during the latest excavation, adding that the item is one of the most important discoveries of this year, helping us understand “what happened during the period after the region came under the Hittite control” as well as “define its administrative and political dynamics.”

Akar further noted that the findings provide information about the administrative and archival practices in the Alalakh ancient city, the capital of the Mukish Kingdom in the Middle and Late Bronze Age.

“The written documents we found are extremely exciting,” he said.

The impressions on the cylinder seals show the existence of a ruling class in the region, Akar said, adding: “This last one, with Luwian hieroglyphic inscription on it, gives us the name of a Hittite prince whose name is not included in other written documents in Alalakh and appears for the first time.”

He did not reveal the name of the Hittite prince but said a Hittitology academic at Istanbul University Faculty of Letters, Hasan Peker, will share the name of the prince with the scientific community once the research is completed.

8,000 years of history to resurface at Turkey’s Tavşanlı Mound

8,000 years of history to resurface at Turkey’s Tavşanlı Mound

Excavations set to start at a mound in the central Turkish province of Kütahya in September are expected to shed light on 8,000 years of history, archaeologists said.

An aerial view of the Tavşanlı Mound, Kütahya, central Turkey.

Dubbed the “Heart of Kütahya” over its shape detected through aerial footage, the “Tavşanlı Mound” located in the namesake district will be unearthed through the cooperation of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and Bilecik Şeyh Edebali University (BŞEU), along with the support of the Tavşanlı Municipality.

Academics from Ankara University, Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli University, Hacettepe University, Istanbul University, Zonguldak Bülent Ecevit University and Uşak University will also take part in the excavations, to be headed by Erkan Fidan, a faculty member at the archaeology department of the BŞEU.

8,000 years of history to resurface at Turkey's Tavşanlı Mound
An aerial view from the Tavşanlı Mound, Kütahya, central Turkey.

The excavations were launched through a presidential decree and are expected to last some 30 years.

Sezer Seçer Fidan, a Hittitologist who is also in charge of the Tavşanlı Mound site, told Anadolu Agency (AA) that the mound was once one of the largest settlements in western Anatolia.

“While previous settlements here were a conglomeration of a couple of villages, as the swamps were filled and drained, it becomes a site that could serve as the basis for urbanization and turn into a capital city.

This corresponds roughly to (a period) four to 5,000 years earlier. Urbanization at this site of course does not consist of a single-phase, but a formation that continues to expand over time,” Fidan said.

Archaeologists work on the Tavşanlı Mound, Kütahya, central Turkey.

She explained that the goal for excavations during this year is to uncover city walls dating back to the Hittites and modern ages, which would prove the importance and scale of the Tavşanlı Mound.

Fidan noted that the mound might contain information, documents and findings on those who have lived in western Anatolia for the last 8,000 years.

“The settlement here lasted until the end of the Bronze Age; therefore, we can see a number of ages stratigraphically. Here, we both want to monitor transitions between civilizations and the exact importance of such a large mound spanning a hectare (in size). … If we can detect buildings related to the Hittite period, then we can find written documents or findings.

It would be a very important finding for western Anatolia since written documents are very rare in this region,” she noted.