These Ancient Greek Helmets Tell of a Naval Battle 2,500 Years Ago
Archaeologists in southern Italy announced last week that they unearthed two helmets, fragments of weapons and armour, bits of pottery and the remains of a possible temple to Athena at an archaeological excavation of the ancient Greek city of Velia, reports Frances D’Emilio for the Associated Press (AP).
Researchers, who have been working at the site since last July, announced in a translated statement that they believe that these artefacts are linked to a major maritime battle that changed the balance of power in the Mediterranean nearly 2,500 years ago.
Ancient Greeks may have left the items behind after the Battle of Alalia. Between 541 and 535 BCE, a fleet of Phocaean ships—who had set up a colony, Alalia, on the island of Corsica—set sail on the nearby Tyrrhenian Sea to fend off attacks from neighbouring Etruscan and Carthaginian forces, per the statement.
Though the Greeks emerged victoriously, the costly sea battle ultimately spurred the Phocaean colonists to leave Alalia and establish a colony closer to other Greek settlements along the southern coast of Italy.
Settlers from Phocaea sailed for the mainland and purchased a plot of land that would eventually become Velia, according to the Guardian.
Initial studies of the helmets reveal that one was designed in the Greek Chalcidian style, while the other helmet resembles the Negua headpieces typically worn by Etruscan warriors, per ANSA.
The archaeologists suggest Greek soldiers might have stolen these helmets from conquered Etruscan troops during the Battle of Alalia, per the statement.
In another major find, researchers also unearthed several brick walls that date to Velia’s founding in 540 B.C.E. and may have once formed a temple to the mythical Greek goddess of war and wisdom, Athena, as Angela Giuffrida reports for the Guardian.
Measuring about 60 feet long by 23 feet wide, the walls were likely constructed in the years just following the Battle of Alalia, says Massimo Osanna, the archaeological park director and head of Italian state museums, per Italian news agency ANSA. The archaeologists say the Phocaeans may have offered the enemy armour as a tribute to the goddess.
“It is, therefore, possible that the [Phocaeans] fleeing from Alalia raised [the temple] immediately after their arrival, as was their custom, after purchasing from the locals the land necessary to settle and resume the flourishing trade for which they were famous,” says Osanna in the translated statement. “And to the relics offered to their goddess to propitiate her benevolence, they added the weapons snatched from the enemies in that epic battle at sea.”
Located near the structure, the team found fragments of pottery inscribed with the Greek word for “sacred,” several pieces of bronze and metal weapons and bits of what appears to be a large, decorated shield.
Researchers plan to clean and analyse the artefacts in a laboratory for further study, where the director says they hope to find more information, particularly on the helmets.
She says in that statement that there may be inscriptions inside of them, something common in ancient armour, that could help trace the armour’s history, such as the identity of the warriors who wore them.
The Stolen Nostradamus manuscript is returned to the library in Rome
An ancient manuscript by the French astrologer Michel de Nostredame, better known as Nostradamus, stolen from a library in Rome has been returned to the Italian capital.
The manuscript, entitled Nostradamus M Prophecies and dating back about 500 years, was rediscovered last year when it was put up for sale by a German auction house.
It is unclear exactly when the 500-page manuscript was stolen from the historical studies centre of the Barnabite fathers of Rome, but it is believed to have been in about 2007.
The book passed through flea markets in Paris and the German city of Karlsruhe before an art dealer tried to sell it through an auction house in Pforzheim, Baden-Württemberg, at a starting price of €12,000 (£10,200).
In April last year investigators from Italy’s cultural heritage protection squad came across the book on the auction house’s website. They identified it as originating from the library in Rome via a stamp dated 1991 on one of the pages.
Rome’s public prosecutor contacted his counterpart in Pforzheim, who began an investigation.
German experts established the book was an original work of Nostradamus, who was famous for his cryptic prediction of world events, and was the one trafficked from Rome.
The manuscript was returned to the library on Wednesday.
Italy’s cultural heritage protection team was established in 1969 and has retrieved more than 3m stolen artefacts.
Remains of the core of a medieval wall have been found just 80cm below the garden of a house near Winchester in a major archaeological discovery this week. The excavation at Hyde Abbey, the burial place of Alfred the Great, also discovered a huge foundation, for what believed to be the north wall of a church.
Most stonework from the abbey has been robbed over time for reuse. Hence the archaeological team was delighted that the trench revealed some intact stonework to the north and floor surfaces to the south. This is the first discovery of the church nave of Hyde’s medieval abbey, according to the archaeologists.
Dig organiser David Spurling said the nave of the huge church under the gardens of Hyde had never been found before despite being the burial place of Alfred the Great. Over 80 metres long, it has remained hidden beneath the houses, gardens and roads in Hyde.
The latest dig, known as Hyde900, has now located the north wall for the first time, only some 80cm below the garden of 6 King Alfred Place.
Householders, Paul and Kat McCulloch had already had their garden dug during the 2020 Hyde900 Community Dig, but no remains of the abbey were found apart from demolition materials left over after the destruction of the abbey.
However, that dig, and the subsequent dig in 2020 at four other gardens in the vicinity, indicated that the trench in number 6 King Alfred Place missed the north wall of the nave by only two or three metres.
Mr Spurling said: “When we put together the new information from previous digs and had the results from the University of Winchester’s ground-penetrating radar survey done by David Ashby, we talked it over with Paul and Kat who jumped at the offer that we could once again dig the garden again – but to avoid Kat’s peony.
“Consequently, Hyde900 organised a limited scale single trench dig, to be staffed by some of our experienced volunteers, as it was expected that any remains would be at least 1.5 metres below the grass. As ever Professor Martin Biddle took a keen interest in the plans, and visited the dig at an early stage, being in Winchester for the launch of a further volume in the Winchester Excavations series.
“After an early find of a Morris Minor bumper and plenty of demolition rubble left over from the Bridewell, the prison built in 1793 over the site of the church, the team were delighted to see the remains of the core of a medieval wall, amazingly only 80cm below ground level.
“Further digging revealed a huge foundation, for what can only be the north wall of the church, no less than 2.7 metres in width.”
Prof Biddle expressed his pleasure at the results and said: “What a tremendous amount of new and important information from one trench.
“It’s a really vital addition to what we know about this important abbey.”
Paul and Kat McCulloch were also delighted at the discovery.
They said: “This dig has achieved results far beyond our expectations.
“To find intact stonework from the 12th-century abbey is rare; the excavation now confirms the exact location of the abbey nave.
“In addition, the find of a rare sculptured beakhead, perhaps representing a mythical beast, such as a Griffin, was a bonus. It is most likely to be a fragment of a voussoir (the wedge-shaped stone which is part of an arch) forming one of the orders of the arch over the doorway to the church. This will shortly be on display in Winchester Museum.”
The results of the dig have helped the Hyde900 expert cartographer Dave Stewart to redraw the north wall abbey church with certainty – but the west end is perhaps for the next annual Hyde900 Community dig scheduled for August 18-21.
The powerful torsos of two boxers, a large flexible shield that covers the stomach and envelops an arm; then ahead, legs and other body parts – just days after the resumption of the latest excavation campaign, the Mont’e Prama Nuragic necropolis at Cabras has yielded the remains of two new monumental statues.
They are two giants that join the army of warriors and boxers that are still shrouded in mystery and have made the Sardinian archaeological site famous all over the world.
Superintendent Monica Stochino told ANSA that the discovery was truly “important” and bodes well for more surprises in the coming weeks.
Culture Minister Dario Franceschini expressed enthusiasm too and recalled that the find has taken place just under a year after the birth of a foundation for the site featuring the culture ministry, the Cabras town council and the Sardinian regional government.
“It’s an exceptional discovery and others will follow,” he commented.
The field study, which began on April 4, has confirmed that the necropolis stretches southwards and there is a major burial road flanking the tombs.
“It is evidence for us that we are on the right road,” stressed Alessandro Usai, the archaeologist who has been the scientific director of the excavation since 2014.
The two new giants have different characteristics from the boxers uncovered at the site in the middle of the 1970s after the accidental discovery of this incredible place, Usai explained.
He said they are of the “Cavalupo” type, like the last two uncovered in 2014, not far from the current dig, distinguished by their very distinctive curved shield.
“It is a rare figure in the model of the Nuragic bronze statuette conserved in the Etruscan Museum in Villa Giulia in Rome,” said the archaeologist, referring to the little masterpiece that came from a tomb at the Cavalupo necropolis at Vulci, in Lazio.
Careful examination, cleaning and the removal of the two large torsos – which will take time due to the particular fragility of the limestone they are sculpted from – is certain to provide new elements of study.
Stochino said that the new intervention, financed by the archaeology, fine arts and landscape superintendency for the metropolitan city of Cagliari and the provinces of Oristano and South Sardinia with a gross figure of 85,000 euros, comes ahead of an another bigger one of 600,000 euros involving the regional secretariat of the culture ministry.
This is on top of the 2.8-million-euro project to restore everything that was discovered between 2014 and 2016 in order to put the new statues on show along with the others at the Cabras Museum.
It is a team effort that involves a variety of professional figures and universities working alongside the superintendency and the foundation – anthropologists, restorers and architects, as well as archaeologists. They will all work together to find answers to the historical problems raised by this special cemetery from 3,000 years ago, built along a burial road and reserved almost exclusive for young men, said Usai, explaining that “elderly and children are almost completely missing” and there are very few women in the 170 tombs studies so far.
A great deal of mystery remains about this site, which was started around the 12th century BC, and the giants, which experts date between the 11th and 8th centuries BC, as well as about their end.
Who were these colossal, two-metre-high pieces of stone – ancient custodians of a sacred area, representations of the social functions of the buried, heroes, ancestors or identity symbols of a community? And why had they fallen down and been reduced to rubble on the tombs they were meant to watch over? Was their end the consequence of a fight between local communities or was it down to the Carthaginians? Usai said that he was inclined towards another hypothesis, that of “natural” destruction.
“My opinion is that the giants fell down one at a time on their own, as the way they were made was overbalanced forwards,” he said The passage of time, the movements of the earth and the cultivations of this stretch of land, which has always been precious for wheat crops, would have done the rest, The archaeologist concluded that it is necessary to go beyond stereotypes.
“Here we are seeking answers based on facts,” he said.
Who knows? Perhaps the new period of research will produce decisive discoveries.
In a burial ground full of Stone Age men, one grave holds a ‘warrior’ woman
The mysterious 6,500-year-old burial of a woman and several arrowheads in northern France may reveal details of how women were regarded in that society during the Neolithic period, or New Stone Age, a new study finds.
The researchers investigated giant graves known as “long barrows” — large earthen mounds, often hundreds of feet long and sometimes retained by wooden palisades that have since rotted away. Of the 19 human burials in the Neolithic cemetery at Fleury-sur-Orne in Normandy, the team analyzed the DNA of 14 individuals; but only one was female.
The woman was buried with “symbolically male” arrows in her grave, and the researchers argue that she may have had to be regarded as “symbolically male” to be buried there.
“We believe that these male-gendered artefacts place her beyond her biological sexual identity,” said study lead author Maïté Rivollat, an archaeologist and geneticist at the University of Bordeaux. “This implies that the embodiment of the male sex in death was necessary for her to gain access to burial in these gigantic structures.”
Archaeologists attribute the barrows at Fleury-sur-Orne to the Neolithic Cerny culture. Several other Cerny cemeteries have been found hundreds of miles away in the Paris Basin region to the southeast, but Fleury-sur-Orne is the largest yet found in Normandy.
But while the two regions shared the common Cerny culture, there seem to have been local differences about who could be buried in high-status graves. While both men and women were buried in almost equal numbers in the Paris Basin, the cemetery at Fleury-sur-Orne was almost exclusively male, so it was surprising to find a woman in one of the barrows, Rivollat told Live Science in an email.
However, it’s challenging to know what kind of life the woman led. “I don’t think we can speculate anyhow about her status — we don’t have enough elements for that,” she said.
More might be revealed about the mysterious Neolithic woman by ongoing scientific work, such as isotopic analysis — an examination of elemental variants in her remains — that could reveal details about her diet and geographical origins, Rivollat said.
The Neolithic cemetery at Fleury-sur-Orne near Caen was discovered in aerial photographs taken in the 1960s, and the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap) has led a major “rescue excavation” there since 2014.
The latest excavations have been huge, covering more than 60 acres (24 hectares) and have revealed several Neolithic barrow graves and other monuments, including the longest barrow ever discovered in Europe, measuring 1,220 feet (372 meters) long.
Rivollat’s team had access to samples of the human remains in the Fleury-sur-Orne barrows; the new studies of their ancient DNA revealed which remains were male — with an X and a Y sex chromosome — and which were female, with two X chromosomes.
The team also used the samples of ancient DNA to determine any family links between the people buried there, and the scientists found that almost all the barrow occupants were unrelated, except for a father and a son who had been buried in the same barrow.
This clue, as well as other aspects of the DNA analysis, suggested the barrow burials at Fleury-sur-Orne were from a patrilineal community — in which social authority was inherited along the male lineage — while the daughters of a family left to live with the families of their mates, the researchers suggested.
However, the woman buried alongside arrows at the site “questions a strictly biological sex bias in the burial rites of this otherwise ‘masculine’ monumental cemetery,” the researchers wrote in the study. It’s not known if only the flint arrowheads were placed in the woman’s grave, or if they were originally attached to wooden shafts that have since rotted away.
Individuals of power
Earlier studies of Cerny cemeteries in the Paris Basin distinguish one particular category of “individuals of power” by burying them with arrows, quivers and possibly bows — perhaps thereby identifying them as “hunters.”
Those studies showed that such hunters were always men, with stress markers on their bones that were consistent with drawing bows, the researchers of the new study noted, writing that. “Together, the recognition is given to the masculine, to archery or to hunting, or even more broadly, to the wild world, characterizes the Cerny ideology in the Paris Basin.”
It’s not known whether the woman buried at the Cerny cemetery at Fleury-sur-Orne was formally regarded as a “hunter” by her community, but “she was buried with four arrowheads, a type of artefact that is considered to be exclusively male in its associations in the Cerny culture,” the researchers wrote in the study.
This, in turn, implied that her burial at the site was an absolute necessity; and that her gender was “presented as masculine, which has granted her access, through the funerary rites, to this monumental cemetery,” they wrote.
Chris Fowler, a senior lecturer in later prehistoric archaeology at the University of Newcastle in the United Kingdom, who wasn’t involved in the latest study but who’s led investigations of Neolithic tombs in the UK, noted the woman buried at Fleury-sur-Orne seemed to have been held in the same regard as the men buried there.
He added that the individuals buried in different barrows were unrelated and that not all members of the much larger community were buried in the barrows.
“It is fascinating that so many lineages shared the same burial ground while selecting if you like, just one or two representatives from their lineage to be buried at the cemetery marked by these extensive mounds,” he told Live Science in an email. “This raises further questions about the social and political dynamics among these lineages.”
Miniature Bible the Size of a Coin Found in UK Library Storage
A tiny Bible that can only be read with a magnifying glass is among thousands of mysterious treasures rediscovered at a Leeds library during the lockdown. The 1911 miniature replica of the 16th century ‘chained Bible’ is about the size of a £2 coin but contains both the Old and New testaments printed on 876 gossamer-thin India paper pages.
Librarians said the origins of the bible, which measures 1.9in (50mm) by 1.3in (35mm), are a mystery.
Rhian Isaac, special collections senior librarian at Leeds City Library, said the book was billed as the smallest Bible in the world when it was printed, although this was almost certainly not true.
Asked where it came from, she said: ‘We don’t know. It’s a bit of a mystery, really. A lot of items in our collection were either bought over time or might have been donated.
‘We’ve done quite a lot of work during the lockdown on cataloguing our rare books and special collections.
‘Before that, hardly any of these books had ever been seen by anyone or ever been found, really.’
Ms Isaac said the Bible’s origins were a mystery because it only resurfaced when library staff decided to do a comprehensive survey during the Covid lockdowns.
More than 3,000 new items have been catalogued, including some dating back to the 15th century.
Among them was a copy of Nouveau Cours de Mathematique, by Bernard Forest de Bélidor (1725) and Oliver Twiss — a rip-off version of Oliver Twist which was printed by the creators of the Penny Dreadfuls.
The great Victorian novelist was so angered by the plagiarised works that he went to court to have them banned. But the judge in the case ruled that ‘no person who had ever seen the original could imagine the other to be anything else than a counterfeit’.
Also among the discoveries was a copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle, dating to 1497. Oddly, however, the Leeds City Library copy has the outline of a key pressed into it, suggesting one was hidden inside the book.
Librarians are now hoping the tiny Bible and other items found will be cherished by all visitors and not just academics and researchers.
‘It’s a massive thing for us,’ Ms Isaac said. ‘Now people can come in and find them and look at them.’
She said anyone can come in and ask to see the tiny Bible.
‘We ask people to get in touch and we can bring them out for people to see. You don’t have to be an academic or a researcher.
‘If you’re just interested, we can get them out for you and you can come and read them in our beautiful Grade II-listed building, which is a wonderful place to come and do some studying,’ Ms Isaac added.
‘We would rather these books were used and read. That’s what they were made for and that’s what we encourage people to come in and do, instead of locking them away.
‘They belong to everyone in Leeds. We’re just the guardians of them, really.’
Ms Isaac said a visitor may even come in with a clue to where the Bible came from.
New research reveals how the black rat colonized Europe in the Roman and Medieval periods
New ancient DNA analysis has shed light on how the black rat, blamed for spreading Black Death, dispersed across Europe – revealing that the rodent colonized the continent on two occasions in the Roman and Medieval periods.
The study – led by the University of York along with the University of Oxford and the Max Planck Institute – is the first ancient genetic study of the species (Rattus rattus), often known as the ship rat.
By analyzing DNA from ancient black rat remains found at archaeological sites spanning the 1st to the 17th centuries in Europe and North Africa, the researchers have pieced together a new understanding of how rat populations dispersed following the ebbs and flows of human trade, urbanism, and empires.
The study shows that the black rat colonized Europe at least twice, once with the Roman expansion and then again in the Medieval period – matching up with archaeological evidence for a decline or even disappearance of rats after the fall of the Roman Empire.
The authors of the study say this was likely related to the break-up of the Roman economic system, though climatic change and the 6th Century Justinianic Plague may have played a role too. When towns and long-range trade re-emerged in the Medieval period, so too did a new wave of black rats.
The black rat is one of three rodent species, along with the house mouse (Mus musculus) and the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus), to have become globally distributed as a result of its ability to live around humans by taking advantage of food and transportation.
Black rats were widespread across Europe until at least the 18th century, before their population declined, most likely as a result of competition with the newly arrived brown rat (Rattus norvegicus), the now dominant rat species in temperate Europe.
Dr. David Orton from the Department of Archaeology said: “We’ve long known that the spread of rats is linked to human events, and we suspected that Roman expansion brought them north into Europe.
“But one remarkable result of our study is quite how much of a single event this seems to have been: all of our Roman rat bones from England to Serbia form a single group in genetic terms.”
“When rats reappear in the Medieval period we see a completely different genetic signature – but again all of our samples from England to Hungary to Finland all group together. We couldn’t have hoped for clearer evidence of repeated colonization of Europe.”
Alex Jamieson, a co-author at the University of Oxford, said “The modern dominance of brown rats has obscured the fascinating history of black rats in Europe. Generating genetic signatures of these ancient black rats reveals how closely black rat and human population dynamics mirror each other.”
He Yu, the co-author from the Max Planck Institute, said “This study is a great showcase of how the genetic background of human commensal species, like the black rat, could reflect historical or economic events. And more attention should be paid to these often neglected small animals.”
The study could also be used to provide information about human movement across continents, the researchers say.
Dr. Orton added: “Our results show how human-commensal species like the black rat, animals which flourish around human settlements, can act as ideal proxies for human historical processes”.
The research was a collaboration between York and partners including Oxford, the Max Planck Institute, and researchers in over 20 countries.
A new study tells Stonehenge was ‘built on land inhabited by deer, elk and wild boar’
Red deer, elk and wild boar would have roamed opened woodland and meadow-like clearings in the area of Stonehenge 4,000 years before the iconic standing stones were constructed, according to new research.
Scientists from the University of Southampton have examined Blick Mead, a Mesolithic archaeological site about a mile away, and found that the area had not been covered in dense, closed-canopy forests as previously thought.
Instead, they believe that it would have been populated by grazing animals and hunter-gatherers.
Lead researcher, Samuel Hudson, of Geography and Environmental Science at Southampton, explained: “There has been the intensive study of the Bronze Age and Neolithic history of the Stonehenge landscape, but less is known about earlier periods.
“The integration of evidence recovered from previous excavations at Blick Mead, coupled with our own fieldwork, allowed us to understand more about the flora and fauna of the landscape prior to construction of the later world-famous monument complex.
“Past theories suggest the area was thickly wooded and cleared in later periods for farming and monument building.
“However, our research points to pre-Neolithic, hunting-gatherer inhabitants, living in open woodland which supported aurochs and other grazing herbivores.”
The research team analysed pollen, fungal spores and traces of DNA preserved in ancient sediment (sedaDNA), combined with optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) and radiocarbon dating to produce an environmental history of the Wiltshire site.
Using this evidence, they built a picture of the habitat in the area from the later Mesolithic (5500 BC) to the Neolithic period (from 4,000 BC).
A university spokesman said: “The study indicates that later Mesolithic populations at Blick Mead took advantage of more open conditions to repeatedly exploit groups of large ungulates (hoofed mammals) until a transition to farmers and monument-builders took place.
“In a sense, the land was pre-adapted for the later large-scale monument building, as it did not require clearance of woodland, due to the presence of these pre-existing open habitats.
“The researchers suggest there was continuity between the inhabitants of the two eras, who utilised the land in different ways but understood it to be a favourable location.”
The findings of the team from Southampton, working with colleagues at the universities of Buckingham, Tromso and Salzburg, are published in the journal PLOS ONE.