Category Archives: EUROPE

Ancient Romans Used Molten Iron to Repair Streets Before Vesuvius Erupted

Ancient Romans Used Molten Iron to Repair Streets Before Vesuvius Erupted

Whilst mostly related to the Vesuvius eruption, Pompeii’s legacy goes beyond the catastrophe and takes account of a vast chapter in history, from pre-Roman temples to astounding frescoes.

As it turns out, the legacy also boasts its fair share of innovative features, as was identified by independent scholars and researchers from the University of Massachusetts and the University of Texas.

To that end, according to a recent paper published in the American Journal of Archaeology in April, the Romans made use of molten iron to repair streets inside Pompeii before the Vesuvius eruption in circa 79 AD.

The study was carried out in 2014, with the assessment revealing how many of Pompeii’s streets were originally paved with stone. But over time, the passage of carts and carriages made their literal marks on the paths, thereby creating small depressions and ruts.

One particular case study revealed how a busy narrow stone-paved street inside the ancient city could get broken down in a matter of few decades.

Now while one of the straightforward solutions entailed repaving these sections with stones, the predicament related to how the process was not only time-consuming but also expensive.

So with typical Roman ingenuity, the ancient repairers tried their hand at an offbeat solution – in the form of pouring molten iron (or heated iron slag) to fill the gaps in the dilapidated streets. Suffice it to say, the molten state rapidly turned into a hardened form after being directed into these ruts and holes, thereby plugging the gaps.

On occasions, the Romans also used ground-up fragments of ceramics and terracotta, along with stone bits, to further fill the ruts and smooth them over.

Now while this solution was relatively cheap and seemingly straightforward, researchers are not certain of how the process of carrying and pouring the hot iron was conducted.

To that end, the iron slag, depending on its type and purity, had to be heated at a very high temperature ranging between 2,012 and 2,912 degrees Fahrenheit (1,100 to 1,600 degrees Celsius).

Interestingly enough, reconstructed models of ancient Roman furnaces have proved how some of the installations could reach such blisteringly hot temperatures.

Furthermore, the archaeologists had noted the deposit residues of heated iron on disparate places on the streets that didn’t need repairing, thus suggesting how the molten iron was sometimes even accidentally dropped during the renovation process.

Judging by such seemingly hasty and offhand techniques, according to one researcher, the dangerous repairing works entailing molten iron were possibly carried by state-sanctioned public slaves (under the directive of the magistrates).

And lastly, the scientists are also trying to analyze the iron composition within many of these Pompeii streets, which, in turn, could provide clues concerning the sources or the locations of the mines during the Roman times.

11,000-year-old Spiritualized Deer Masks Whisper Tales Of A Forgotten World

11,000-year-old Spiritualized Deer Masks Whisper Tales Of A Forgotten World

The headdresses are the star exhibits in A Survival Story – Prehistoric Life at Star Carr which gives visitors a fascinating glimpse into life in Mesolithic-era Britain following the end of the last Ice Age.

At the time people were building their homes on the shore of Lake Flixton, five miles inland from what is now the North Yorkshire coast, Britain was still attached to Europe with climates warming rapidly.

As well as the spectacular headdresses, made of red deer skull and antlers, the exhibition features other Mesolithic-era objects such as axes and weapons used to hunt a range of animals such as red deer and elk.

One of the three Mesolithic deer skull headdresses from the new exhibition.

Also going on display is a wooden paddle – used to transport settlers around the lake – as well as objects for making fire. Beads and pendants made of shale and amber also provide evidence of how people adorned themselves, as do objects used for making clothes from animal skins.

Most of the objects on display are from MAA. They were recovered from excavations conducted at the site by Cambridge archaeologist Professor Grahame Clark. More recently, excavations have been conducted by archaeologists from the Universities of Chester, Manchester, and York.

It is also the first time so many of the artifacts belonging to MAA have been on display side-by-side. Many of the objects are very fragile and can’t be moved, meaning it is a unique opportunity to see such a wide selection of material from the Star Carr site.

Exhibition curator Dr. Jody Joy said: “Star Carr is unique. Only a scattering of stone tools normally survive from so long ago; but the waterlogged ground there has preserved bone, antler and wooden objects. It’s here that archaeologists have found the remains of the oldest house in Britain, exotic jewellery and mysterious headdresses.

“This was a time before farming, before pottery, before metalworking – but the people who made their homes there returned to the same place for hundreds of years.

“The most mysterious objects found at Star Carr are 33 deer skull headdresses. Only three similar objects have been discovered elsewhere – all in Germany.

Someone has removed parts of the antlers and drilled holes in the skulls, but archaeologists don’t know why. They may have been hunting disguises, they may have been used in ceremonies or dances. We can never know for sure, but this is why Star Carr continues to intrigue us.”

As well as the headdresses, archaeologists have also discovered scatters of flint showing where people made stone tools, and antler points used to hunt and fish. 227 points were found at Star Carr, more than 90pc of all those ever discovered in Britain.

Closer to what was the lake edge (Lake Flixton has long since dried up), there is evidence of Mesolithic-era enterprise including wooden platforms used as walkways and jetties (the earliest known examples of carpentry in Europe) – where boats would have given access to the lake and its two islands.

First discovered in 1947 by an amateur archaeologist, work at Star Carr continues to this day. Unfortunately, recent artifacts are showing signs of decay as changing land use around the site causes the peat where many artifacts have been preserved naturally for millennia to dry out. It is now a race against time for archaeologists to discover more about the site before it is lost.

“Star Carr shows that although life was very different 11,500 years ago, people shared remarkably similar concerns to us,” added Joy. “They needed food, warmth, and comfort. They made sense of the world through ritual and religion.

“The people of Star Carr were very adaptable and there is much we can learn from them as we too face the challenges of rapid climate change.

There are still many discoveries to be made, but these precious archaeological remains are now threatened by the changing environment.

“As they are so old, the objects from Star Carr are very fragile and they must be carefully monitored and stored. As a result, few artifacts are normally on display. This is a rare opportunity to see so many of these objects side-by-side telling the story of this extraordinary site.”

Artist’s impression of Star Carr 11,000 years ago: The climate was warming and people were making masks, or headdresses, out of red deer skulls
Mesolithic hand axes – Star Carr, Yorkshire

A Survival Story – Prehistoric Life at Star Carr is on display at the Li Ka Shing Gallery at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Downing Street, Cambridge, from June 21 to December 30, 2019. The entry is free.

Frozen moss reveals fatal final journey of 5,300-year-old ice mummy

Frozen moss reveals fatal final journey of 5,300-year-old ice mummy


According to a study released on October 30th, 2019, in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by James Dickson of the University of Glasgow (UK) and colleagues at the University of Innsbruck, Alongside the famous Ötzi, the Iceman is buried, at least 75 species of bryophytes -mosses and liverworts — which hold clues to Ötzi’s surroundings.

Ötzi Iceman is a remarkable 5,300-year-old human frozen ice specimen that has been found in the Italian Alps at around 3,200 meters above sea level.

He was frozen alongside his clothing and gear as well as an abundant assemblage of plants and fungi. In this study, Dickson and colleagues aimed to identify the mosses and liverworts preserved alongside the Iceman.

Otzi is an incredibly well-preserved glacier mummy that’s 5,300 years old.

Today, 23 bryophyte species live the area near where Ötzi was found, but inside the ice, the researchers identified thousands of preserved bryophyte fragments representing at least 75 species.

It is the only site of such high altitude with bryophytes preserved over thousands of years.

Notably, the assemblage includes a variety of mosses ranging from low-elevation to high-elevation species, as well as 10 species of liverworts, which are very rarely preserved in archaeological sites.

Only 30% of the identified bryophytes appear to have been local species, with the rest having been transported to the spot in Ötzi’s gut or clothing or by large mammalian herbivores whose droppings ended up frozen alongside the Iceman.

From these remains, the researchers infer that the bryophyte community in the Alps around 5,000 years ago was generally similar to that of today.

Furthermore, the non-local species help to confirm the path Ötzi took to his final resting place. Several of the identified moss species thrive today in the lower Schnalstal valley, suggesting that Ötzi traveled along the valley during his ascent.

This conclusion is corroborated by previous pollen research, which also pinpointed Schnalstal as the Iceman’s likely route of ascent.

Dickson adds, “Most members of the public are unlikely to be knowledgeable about bryophytes (mosses and liverworts). However, no fewer than 75 species of these important investigative clues were found when the Iceman (aka Ötzi) was removed from the ice.

They were recovered as mostly small scraps from the ice around him, from his clothes and gear, and even from his alimentary tract.

Those findings prompted the questions: Where did the fragments come from? How precisely did they get there? How do they help our understanding of the Iceman?”

Medieval pilgrim tombs found below Rome street

Medieval pilgrim tombs found below Rome street

ROME, ITALY—BBC reports that medieval burials were unearthed during utility work on the Via del Governo Vecchio in central Rome.

The graves had been damaged by previous construction projects.

According to Archeological Superintendence the city found two graves dating from the Middle Ages during gas works on Via del Governo Vecchio in the center of Rome, a road near Piazza Navona.

The first tomb, partially destroyed by gas and sewage pipes, contained two human skeletons: one belonging to a woman (25-30 years) with a shell in her hand, and a man (30-40 years).

Besides the female skeleton is a bronze coin dating from the late 11th and 12th centuries, and other fragments of shells.

The second burial site consists of several graves set against a brick wall thought to be associated with the Church of St. Cecilia at Monte Giordano, which was built in A.D. 1123 and demolished in the early seventeenth century. 

The second tomb, particularly damaged by modern-day infrastructural works, comprises a cemetery area with dividing sections against a brickwork wall whose graves appear to date to Mediaeval times.

The scallop shells found next to the skeletons contain two holes suggesting their use as necklaces traditionally worn by the pilgrims in the Middle Ages.

These elements lead experts to believe the find was a cemetery for pilgrims, located along the ancient Via Papalis pilgrimage route to St Peter’s.

The burial chambers probably belonged to the medieval Church of S. Cecilia at Monte Giordano, whose origins date back to 1123 but which was demolished in the first half of the 17th century to make space for the Oratorio dei Filippini designed by Francesco Borromini.

Backyard Bones May Have Been Buried by 19th-Century Students

Human remains found in Aberdeen garden may have been buried by medical students 187 years ago

OLD ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—BBC reports that 115 human bone fragments recovered from a private garden in northeastern Scotland by archaeologist Alison Cameron may have been buried by medical student Alexander Creyk and his roommates, who lived on the property in the early nineteenth century. 

Dr. Rebecca Crozier.

Old Aberdeen staff who refurbished a house on Canal Street discovered bones on garden soil last November, sparking a complicated investigation into how they got there.

The police quickly ignored the errors and tasked the puzzle to archeologists from the Aberdeenshire Council and Aberdeen University.

And after studying the bones and deciphering records from the last 200 years over an 11-month period, the team has pieced together a puzzle – determining the most likely explanation was a medical student trying not to fall foul of the law.

“The discovery of these bones reveals a little piece of the city’s lost history. It is a fascinating tale,” said Aberdeenshire Council’s archeologist Bruce Mann.

Hard at work unearthing a little bit of history in the city

After the discovery, Alison Cameron, of Cameron Archeology, spent several days excavating the garden to collect all the bones. They were cleaned and given to Aberdeen University archaeology lecturer Dr. Rebecca Crozier.

In all, there were 115 bone fragments and Dr. Crozier pieced them together to make 84 fragments. Her tests showed the bones are those of between five and seven people – two of whom were aged between two and seven.

A carbon dating test, performed at a laboratory in East Kilbride, concluded there was a 95.4% likelihood the bones were those of people who lived at some point between 1650 and 1750.

Dr. Crozier was able to tell that, once they had died, two people’s bones had been used for the purposes of training new doctors.

Marischal Museum. Bones were discovered in Aberdeen in February. For months Aberdeen Uni and Aberdeenshire Council staff have been analyzing them and concluded they are historical. Pictured is Dr. Rebecca Crozier, lecturer in archaeology from the uni, who studied them in a lab at Marischal Museum.

She concluded procedures had been carried out on the skull of one of the adults and on one of the children after they had died. Records told the researchers that medical students lived at the Canal Street house around 1832.

That year, the Government introduced the Anatomy Act to regulate the study of donated human bodies and halt the illegal trade in corpses and grave robberies.

Street directories show a young trainee doctor named Alexander Creyk was living at the house on Canal Street around 1832 along with other lodgers who were also medical students. Mr. Mann and his colleagues believe Mr. Creyk, whose father was a surgeon from Elgin, was the likely culprit.

“At the time, there would have been medical students who were concerned about being caught with human remains that could land them into trouble, so it is likely he disposed of them within the boundaries of the property and they remained undiscovered until November.”

Mr. Mann said: “Often, the bones and the physical objects you find at the site only tell half the story. “Then it is a case of studying records to get a holistic picture of what has happened. “You have to consider all the other factors to build up a full story.

“There were also objects, such as china, found at the site which were consistent with the early 19th Century.” Dr. Crozier said: “In the early 19th Century, a lot of people were terrified of being anatomized and the Anatomy Act was brought in to regulate it.

Archaeologist Alison Cameron excavating the garden

“It has been a fascinating exercise. It’s interesting to think that, from this little box of bones, a tale from the dark history of Aberdeen has emerged.

“This has brought history to life. It is so cool because we’ve been able to put together a really fluent narrative about the sequence of events.” The carbon dating works by testing to what extent bone has decayed, allowing scientists to say how old they are.

Dr. Crozier added: “In the case of the child, we were able to tell that a hole had been drilled into the skull and I was able to match it to a particular tool. “It was not a procedure that would have been carried out when the person was alive. One of the adults showed similar signs of skull drilling.

“We’re going to have a student look into the study of surgery and how it can be distinguished that it happened post-mortem rather than during their lives.” Mr. Mann said: “Exercises like this are important in ensuring the people who have died are treated with dignity.

“Once our research is done, we arrange a burial for the bones. That can involve researching their religion so we get their preferred kind of ceremony. Then we will locate an appropriate place – usually a cemetery close to where they were found.

“We get on average five such cases a year.”

Ancient Roman sarcophagus found at London building site

Ancient Roman sarcophagus found at London building site

LONDON, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a 1,600-year-old Roman sarcophagus with an opened lid was unearthed at a construction site on Swan Street in central London.

An infant’s bones and a broken bracelet were found in the soil near the sarcophagus.

The 1,600-year-old coffin found near Borough Market is thought to contain the remains of a member of the nobility.

Archaeologists have been unable to identify the body as the stone coffin has been left filled with soil after being robbed, experts believe.

The sarcophagus will be taken to the Museum of London and the bones will be analyzed.

The coffin was found several meters underground with its lid slid open, which indicates it was plundered by 18th-century thieves.

Experts discovered the coffin six months into the dig as they were due to finish their search
The coffin was found on Swan Street.

Gillian King, senior planner for archaeology at Southwark Council, said she hoped the grave robbers “have left the things that were of small value to them but great value to us as archaeologists”.

The grave owner must have been “very wealthy and have had a lot of social status to be honored with not just a sarcophagus, but one that was built into the walls of a mausoleum” Ms. King said.

She added: “We always knew this site had the potential for a Roman cemetery, but we never knew there would be a sarcophagus.”

The location is a prime spot for historical finds
The sarcophagus will now be taken to the Museum of London’s archive for analysis

The coffin was found on Swan Street after the council told developers building new flats on the site to fund an archaeological dig.

Researchers discovered the coffin six months into the dig as they were due to finish their search.

Experts at the Museum of London will now test and date the bones and soil inside.

Unique Archaeological Discovery in Croatia: Roman Chariot With Horses!

Unique Archaeological Discovery in Croatia: Roman Chariot With Horses!

The fossilized remains of a buried Roman chariot with two horses in a burial ritual have been discovered by Archeologists in Croatia.

A large burial chamber for an ‘extremely wealthy family’ was found in which the carriage with what appears to be two horses had lain.  

Archaeologists from the City Museum Vinkovci and Institute of Archaeology from Zagreb discovered the Roman carriage on two wheels (known in Latin as a cisium) with horses at the Jankovacka Dubrava site close to the village of Stari Jankovci, near the city of Vinkovci, in eastern Croatia. 

The discovery is believed to be an example of how those with extreme wealth were sometimes buried along with their horses. 

Curator Boris Kratofil explained to local media that the custom of burial under tumuli (an ancient burial mound) was an exceptional burial ritual during the Roman period in the south of the Pannoinan Basin.

He said: ‘The custom is associated with extremely wealthy families who have played a prominent role in the administrative, social and economic life of the province of Pannonia.’

The discovery is estimated to be from the third century AD but the team of scientists is working to confirm its age.

The discovery of Roman carriage with horses. The incredible discovery of a Roman chariot complete with the fossilised remains of horses

The director of the Institute of Archaeology Marko Dizdar said that it was a sensational discovery that is unique in Croatia.

He said: ‘After this comes a long process of restoration and conservation of the findings, but also a complete analysis of the findings.

‘In a few years, we will know a little more about the family whose members were buried in this area 1,800 years ago.

‘We are more interested in the horses themselves, that is, whether they were bred here or came from other parts of the empire, which will tell us more about the importance and wealth of this family.

‘We will achieve this through cooperation with domestic as well as numerous European institutions.’

Humans Reached Greek Island Nearly 200,000 Years Ago

Early humans travelled to Greek islands 200,000 years earlier than believed and could even have WALKED to them when seas were low, scientists claim

The discoveries in the journal Science Advances were based on years of excavations and challenge current thinking about human movement in the region —long thought to have been inaccessible and uninhabitable to anyone but modern humans.

The latest evidence encourages researchers to reconsider the routes followed by our earliest ancestors from Africa to Europe and reveals their ability to respond to new environmental challenges.

“Until recently, this part of the world was seen as irrelevant to early human studies but the results force us to completely rethink the history of the Mediterranean islands,” says Tristan Carter, an associate professor of anthropology at McMaster University and lead author on the study.

He conducted the work with Dimitris Athanasoulis, head of archaeology at the Cycladic Ephorate of Antiquities within the Greek Ministry of Culture.

While Stone Age hunters are known to have been living in mainland Europe for over 1 million years, the Mediterranean islands were previously believed to be settled only 9,000 years ago, by farmers, the idea being that only modern humans — Homo sapiens — were sophisticated enough to build seafaring vessels.

Scholars had believed the Aegean Sea, separating western Anatolia (modern Turkey) from continental Greece, was therefore impassable to the Neanderthals and earlier hominins, with the only obvious route in and out of Europe, was across the land bridge of Thrace (southeast Balkans).

The authors of this paper suggest that the Aegean basin was, in fact, accessible much earlier than believed.

At certain times of the Ice Age, the sea was much lower exposing a land route between the continents that would have allowed early prehistoric populations to walk to Stelida, and an alternative migration route connecting Europe and Africa.

Researchers believe the area would have been attractive to early humans because of its abundance of raw materials ideal for toolmaking and for its freshwater.

At the same time, however, “in entering this region the pre-Neanderthal populations would have been faced with a new and challenging environment, with different animals, plants and diseases, all requiring new adaptive strategies,” says Carter.

In this paper, the team details evidence of human activity spanning almost 200,000 years at Stelida, a prehistoric quarry on the northwest coast of Naxos.

Map of Greek islands in the Aegean Sea showing Naxos in the center
Map of Greek islands in the Aegean Sea showing Naxos in the center

Here early Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and earlier humans used the local stone (chert) to make their tools and hunting weapons, of which the team has unearthed hundreds of thousands.

Chert tool, Stelida, Naxos
Kathryn Killackey/Stelida Naxos Archaeological Project

Reams of scientific data collected at the site add to the ongoing debate about the importance of coastal and marine routes to human movement.

While present data suggests that the Aegean could be crossed by foot over 200,000 years ago, the authors also raise the possibility that Neanderthals may also have fashioned crude seafaring boats capable of crossing short distances.

This research is part of the Stelida Naxos Archeological Project, a larger collaboration involving scholars from all over the world. They have been working at the site since 2013.