Category Archives: EUROPE

Ancient ‘curse tablets’ discovered down a 2,500-year-old well in Athens

Ancient ‘curse tablets’ discovered down a 2,500-year-old well in Athens


Records of curse tablets have been found in 2500-year-old water well in Athens. The 30 small lead tablets were found engraved with ancient curses and hexes at the bottom of a 2,500-year-old well in the area of Kerameikos, in the ancient Athens main burial ground.

On behalf of the German Archaeological Institute in Athens, Dr. Jutta Stroszeck, head of the Kerameikos digging, said that the ritual text “invoking the underworld gods”  but the person that ordered the curse is never mentioned by name, “only the recipient”.

Previously discovered curses from tombs dating to the Classical period (480-323 BC) had been related to people that had died in an untimely manner and through what appeared to be plain old bad luck.

These folks were deemed as being most suitable for carrying spells to the underworld. According to an article in Haaretz, Dr. Stroszeck said there was good reason for the transition of “ill-will from graves to wells” in ancient Athens.

Since 1913 the excavations conducted by the German Archaeological Institute in the Kerameikos area have unearthed about 6,500 burials from ornate tombs and graves marked with stelai, reliefs, marble vases, and sculpted animals which were deemed important on the journey to the realm of the dead.

Graves in the classical section of the Kerameikos necropolis.

In 2016 Dr. Stroszeck’s team excavated the 33 foot (10 meters) deep well in which the curses were found during an archaeological project investigating the water supply to a 1st century BC bathhouse near the city-gate on the road to the academy.

Inside the well, according to the Haaretz report, items that were discovered included, “drinking vessels (skyphoi), wine mixing vessels (krater), clay lamps, cooking pots, special broad-mouthed clay pots used to draw water (kadoi), wooden artifacts including a trinket box, a scraper used by potters, a wooden pulley, part of the drawing mechanism of the well, a number of bronze coins, as well as organic remains such as peach pits. And the curses”.

Model sarcophagus and figurine made of lead, found at the bottom of the Kerameikos well, 5th century BC.

The 30 ancient tablets have been scientifically documented using “reflectance transformation imaging”, which is a new digital visualizing technique enabling the researchers to study even the smallest inscriptions scraped onto the faces of the lead tablets. And reaching for answers as to why the curses might have been created we have to look back to the time of Cicero (De Legibus II 66), Demetrios of Phaleron, who ruled Athens in 317-307 BC.

The curse against the newlywed Glykera, focusing on her vulva, by someone jealous of her marriage.

Cicero enacted new legislation governing the management of tombs and created a new magistrate ’s office to oversee adherence to the law:   et huic procurationi certum magistratum praefecerat regarding what was called the ‘Black Arts ’.

One of the new laws forbade the placement of ‘ hexes’ in tombs and the public responded to the new decree by tossing their curses into wells.

Perhaps this happened because rivers and wells were not only thought of as having been protected “by nymphs” but it was also widely believed they provided “direct access” to the underworld and, as Dr. Stroszeck said, throwing the curse into a well would “activate it”.

The origins of such curses in ancient Athens, according to Dr. Stroszeck, might be found back in the mid 5th century BC during the dedication of the Parthenon atop the Acropolis.

At this time opposition was shown against the spending of federal (union) finds for municipal purposes in Athens. Pericles famously argued that as long as Athens was fulfilling its defense obligations, it owed “no accounting” to its allies regarding its spending of the tribute money.

However, during the famous speech of Thucydides, son of Melesias, against the vast construction program, his jaw suddenly broke and to the people, it looked like Thucydides had been cursed.

This single incident could explain the sudden increase of curse tablets in the Kerameikos during the 5th century BC. And the team of archaeologists hopes that their 3D imaging technology will help them learn the name of the actual nymph and the nature of curses in Athens during the late 4th century BC.

Pictish Hillfort Unearthed in Central Scotland

Ancient ‘power centre’ uncovered in Perthshire, Scotland

A hilltop fort near Dunkeld was an important Pictish power centre, say archaeologists who excavated the site. Evidence of metal and textile production were revealed at King’s Seat Hillfort, a legally protected site.

Finds such as glass beads and pottery suggested the Picts who occupied the site in the 7th to 9th centuries had trade links with continental Europe.

Other finds included pieces of Roman glass that were recycled and reused as gaming pieces.

In a new report on last year’s excavations, archaeologists said the wealth of finds suggested the site had been a stronghold of the elite in the local population, with “influence over the trade and production of high-status goods”.

Fragments of pottery – of the kind made in continental Europe – and Anglo-Saxon glass beads suggested the Picts were trading far afield. As well as evidence of metal-working, spindle whorls used in textile production were found.

Roman glass recycled and reused as a gaming piece was among the finds at the site

Archaeologists said the artefacts uncovered were in keeping with other high-status, royal sites of early historic Scotland, including the early Dalriadic capital of Dunadd in Argyll and the Pictish royal centre of Dundurn near St Fillan’s by Loch Earn.

Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust (PKHT) worked with Dunkeld and Birnam Historical Society, archaeological contractors AOC Archaeology Ltd on the digs.

Thirty community volunteers and Pitlochry High School students assisted with the excavations.

Last year’s work marked the third and final season of excavations as part of the King’s Seat Hillfort Community Archaeology Project. The site is a scheduled ancient monument and digs can only be done with prior permission.

A fragment of Anglo-Saxon drinking vessel

David Strachan, director of PKHT, said: “We have uncovered lots of evidence of how people were living and working, and the remains of a building with a large hearth on the summit, with fragments of glass drinking vessels, gaming pieces, animal bone and horn.

“They paint a vivid picture of high-status people gathering and feasting, decorated in the latest high-status jewellery and ornamentation.”

Cath MacIver, of AOC Archaeology, said crucibles, whetstones, stone and clay moulds found indicated that craft production took place at the hillfort.

“What’s particularly interesting is that evidence of this activity has been found in all of the trenches [excavated areas],” she said.

“There must have been a lot of iron and other metalworking going on here making the site an important centre for production – not just the home of a small group of people making items for their own use.”

In an astonishing Bronze Age discovery, a 3000-year-old community has been unearthed

In an astonishing Bronze Age discovery, a 3000-year-old community has been unearthed

Rare archaeological evidence from a prehistoric site of the Eastern England village suggests that Bronze Age Britons liked high-end fashion

The earliest samples of superfine textiles ever identified in England, Excavations, 30 miles northwest of the Cambridge area It is also one of the finest bronze ages ever found in Europe as a whole – and it is extremely important globally.

Archaeologists from the University of Cambridge’s archaeological unit have so far unearthed more than 100 fragments of textile, unspun processed fibre and textile yarn at the site. Some of the yarn is of superfine quality – with some threads being just 100 microns (1/10 of a millimetre) in diameter, while some of the fabrics themselves are so finely woven that they have 28 threads per centimetre, fine even by modern standards. It’s likely that some of the fragments of textile are from items of clothing.

Detail of preserved Bronze Age textile made from plant fibres

Originally, some of the textiles must have been of very substantial size – because they had been folded, in some cases in up to 10 layers. If made to be worn, these folded fabrics may well have been large garments, potentially, capes, cloaks – or even large drapes, perhaps similar to those known from elsewhere in the ancient  (and sometimes modern) worlds – the ancient Greek chiton, the Roman toga and the Indian sari. A drape folded into 10 layers for temporary storage would have served as a substantial garment – potentially up to 3 metres square (i.e. 9 square metres).

Most of the superfine fabrics from the site – Must Farm near Whittlesea, Cambridgeshire – were made of linen. When the village was flourishing around 3000 years ago, textile manufacture seems to have been a key craft practised there. Hundreds – possibly thousands – of flax seeds have so far been found on the site (some of which had been stored in containers). Flax is the crop which produces the fibres used in linen production.

Amber bead and others found in situ

What’s more, the presence on the site of unspun processed fibre, yarn and finished textiles all strongly suggests that the village was involved not only in using textiles but also in manufacturing them. Timber fragments with delicate carpentry, found during the Historic-England-funded excavation may well be the remains of looms.  Indeed fired clay loom weights have been unearthed there.

The archaeologists have also discovered that Bronze Age Britons also had a penchant for a  different type of fabric – made of processed nettle stems (from a locally available non-stinging subspecies of nettle – today known as fen nettles). Unlike flax, nettles grew wild and therefore did not need to be cultivated. What’s more, well-made nettle textile was often particularly fine and silky.

But nettles may well have had additional benefits – at least in the eyes of the users of the fabrics.

In traditional ancient folklore, nettles of various types were often regarded as having magical powers. They were seen as being able to protect both humans and animals from sorcery and witchcraft. What’s more, garments made of nettles were therefore sometimes seen as protecting their wearers from evil. Indeed one of Europe’s most famous folktales – the Wild Swans (written by  Hans Christian Andersen, but thought to be based on traditional folk stories) – reveals how shirts, made of nettle yarn, enabled their wearers to break a witch’s spell.

So far no evidence of any extensive patterns or coloured dyes have been found on any of the linen and nettle yarn textile fragments – although the edge of one piece of fabric (perhaps part of a shawl or cape) seems to have been decorated with fringes, rows of knots, and strips featuring different styles of weave. Certainly, dying the linen would have presented substantial technical difficulties – but bleaching it would have been much less challenging. It is therefore very likely that the natural light brown linen was bleached to achieve a creamy white or possibly even dazzlingly pure white appearance. Basic bleaching of the fabric might well have been achieved with the use of a mixture of urine and milk or by simply laying out the fabrics on wet grass on a succession of sunny days.

The village appears to have been very prosperous, yet tragically short-lived.

The village appears to have been very prosperous, yet tragically short-lived. As well as making (and presumably using) ultra-fine fabrics, at least some of the inhabitants wore exotic jewellery made of blue, black, yellow and green glass manufactured in the eastern Mediterranean region – probably in what is now the Syria or Turkey.

They lived in large well-built houses and had a wide range of tools and other possessions. So far,  around 50 bronze axes, sickles, spears, swords, razors, hammers, tweezers and awls have been found along with some 60 wooden buckets, platters and troughs as well as around 60 well preserved ceramic bowls, mugs and storage jars. Dug-out canoes and two wooden wheels have also been unearthed.

But the archaeological evidence suggests that this thriving and prosperous settlement was probably attacked, burnt and destroyed by its enemies less than a year after it was built.

In the five houses excavated so far, the population seems to have fled or been captured or killed, leaving all their possessions behind – meals half-eaten, salted or dried meat still hanging in the rafters, garments neatly folded on or around well-made wooden furniture.

“It’s a bit like discovering the Marie Celeste. Everything is exactly as it was left. Only the inhabitants are missing,” said the director of the excavation, Mark Knight of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit.

“This site is providing the modern world with an image of daily life in the British Bronze Age that was until now beyond our dreams. It is only the very specific and unusual circumstances of the destruction of the settlement that has, paradoxically, allowed so much of it to be preserved intact,” he said.

Because the village had been set alight, large numbers of wooden, textile and other artefacts were charred – and because the houses were built on wooden stilts in a river (flanked by marchland), everything ultimately ended up underwater, where it was subsequently covered with silt and mud.

This rare combination of charring and waterlogging and natural burial under sediment has been responsible for the extraordinarily high levels of preservation.

Most of the artefacts have been found inside the settlement’s houses. So far, five of these large 6-8 metre diameter structures have been found at the site. Again, because of charring and subsequent waterlogging, around half of all the wall, roof and other timbers from these buildings have been preserved.

The excavation is being directed by archaeologist Mark Knight of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, with textile research being carried out by a textile specialist, Dr Susanna Harris of the University of Glasgow. Because of its national and international importance, the entire project is being funded to the tune of £1.4 million by Historic England and the owner of the site, one of the UK’s major brick-making companies – Forterra.

The finds include the largest group of prehistoric textiles ever discovered in Britain – and the largest collection of complete bronze, wooden and ceramic artefacts ever found in a British Bronze Age settlement.

Could this 300 million-year-old ‘screw’ be proof of aliens?

Could this 300 million-year-old ‘screw’ be proof of aliens?

Russian scientists have been pondering its existence since it was found in the 1990s – with many people believing it to be proof of highly advanced lost human civilization, aliens or a fossilized sea creature.

They say the screw is the remains of an ancient form of technology that proves extra-terrestrials visited Earth millions of years ago. However, scientists say the ‘screw’ is nothing more than a fossilized sea creature called a Crinoid.

A paleontological analysis was carried out, which revealed the stone was formed between 300 and 320 million years ago. 

The team also claims that an x-ray of the stone shows that another screw is present inside it. However, they have not allowed international experts to examine the object, nor have they revealed what the screw is made of.

Since the initial finding, much debate has surrounded the discovery, with scientists scoffing at the suggestion that it reflects an ancient screw and suggesting there is a much less exciting explanation.

Location of Kaluga Oblast in Russia, where researchers claim to have found a 300-million-year-old screw

The Mail Online reports that scientists who have examined photographic evidence of the object say that there is a more earthly answer to the phenomenon – the ‘screw’ is actually the fossilized remains of an ancient sea creature known as a crinoid.

Crinoids are a species of marine animals that are believed to have evolved around 350 million years ago. They are characterized by a mouth on the top surface that is surrounded by feeding arms.  Today, there are around 600 crinoid species, but they were much more abundant and diverse in the past.

A stalked crinoid has drawn by Ernst Haeckel.

Over the years, geologists have found countless fossils representing whole crinoids or their segments, some of which do resemble screws.

Scientists have suggested that the screw-like shape seen in fossil samples may be the reversed-shape of the creature, which dissolved while the rock was shaped around it.  

Left: The fossilized remains of a whole crinoid. Right: Fossilized segments of crinoids

“It is thought that the fossilized creature in the mysterious rock is a form of ‘sea lily’ – a type of crinoid that grew a stalk when it became an adult, to tether itself to the seabed,” write the Mail Online.

“However, some say that the stalks of crinoids were typically much smaller than the ‘screw’, with slightly different markings, and have discarded the theory.”

Nigel Watson, author of the UFO Investigations Manual told Mail Online: “Lots of out-of-place artifacts have been reported, such as nails or even tools embedded in ancient stone. Some of these reports are…misinterpretations of natural formations.”

“It would be great to think we could find such ancient evidence of a spaceship visiting us so long ago, but we have to consider whether extra-terrestrial spacecraft builders would use screws in the construction of their craft,” he added. “It also seems that this story is probably a hoax that is being spread by the internet, and reflects our desire to believe that extra-terrestrials have visited us in the past and are still visiting us today in what we now call UFOs.”

For now, the controversy surrounding the object remains very much alive, and unless the Kosmopoisk Group releases detailed information regarding the material of the ‘screw’, it is unlikely that consensus will be reached any time soon.