Category Archives: HUNGARY

Burial of Roman Physician Excavated in Hungary

Burial of Roman Physician Excavated in Hungary

The archaeologists of Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE), Jász Museum, and the Eötvös Loránd Research Network have unearthed a find unique on a European scale: the tomb of a Roman physician from the 1st century AD, along with his complete equipment, in the Jász region of Hungary, MTI reports.

In the first phase of the excavation near Jászberény in 2022, the objects discovered were from the Copper Age and the Avar period, and then the site was surveyed using a magnetometer, Tivadar Vida, director of the Institute of Archaeology at ELTE said at a press conference in Budapest on Tuesday.

Levente Samu, the assistant research fellow at the institute, said that an earlier structure had also been found among the rows of tombs in the Avar cemetery, with several metal objects having been recovered from this relatively shallow grave.

The examination of the tools quickly revealed that this was a Roman burial complex, and the grave was that of a physician, whose equipment had been placed in two wooden boxes next to his feet. The tomb contained the remains of a man aged between 50 and 60 years, with no signs of trauma or disease. The grave was almost completely undisturbed, except for an animal disturbance which had moved one of the scalpels from the foot to the head. The tomb yielded pincers, needles, tweezers and high-end scalpels suitable for surgical operations, as well as remains of medicinal products.

Burial of Roman Physician Excavated in Hungary

The copper alloy scalpels were decorated with silver plating and fitted with interchangeable steel blades. A muller was placed at the knee of the deceased, which, judging by the abrasion marks, could have been used to mix herbs and other medicines.

According to Levente Samu, these instruments represent the highest quality of the age and were suitable for use in complex medical procedures.

László Borhy, archaeologist and rector of ELTE, pointed out that such a complete medical kit is unrivalled both inside and outside the borders of what was the Roman Empire.

According to radiocarbon dating, the tomb dates back to the 1st century AD, the period of the formation of the province of Pannonia. Ongoing genetic testing will hopefully shed light on the Roman doctor’s origins.

Benedek Varga, Director of Semmelweis Museum of Medical History

called the discovery of such an assemblage from the Barbaricum of the 1st century BC a world sensation. Only one similar medical kit from the period has ever been discovered: in Pompeii, which was one of the richest settlements in the empire.

Levente Samu said that in addition to genetic research, they also plan to carry out an isotopic analysis of the skeleton, which will help determine whether the doctor was of local origin.

András Gulyás, archaeologist and museologist at Jász Museum, pointed out that this period in Jászság may have been a transitional period between the Celtic and Roman Sarmatian populations.

It is not clear from the current data whether the physician buried in the tomb was there to heal a local leader of high prestige or whether he was accompanying a military movement of the Roman legions.

Medieval Coin Minted in Norway Found in Hungary

Medieval Coin Minted in Norway Found in Hungary

A metal detectorist has discovered a small silver coin marked with the name of a famous Viking king.  However, it was unearthed not in Scandinavia, but in southern Hungary, where it was lost almost 1,000 years ago.

Medieval Coin Minted in Norway Found in Hungary
The small silver coin was found near the Hungarian village of Várdomb. It dates to between 1046 and 1066 and is inscribed with the name of the Norwegian king.

The find has baffled archaeologists, who have struggled to explain how the coin might have ended up there — it’s even possible that it arrived with the travelling court of a medieval Hungarian king. The early Norwegian coin, denominated as a “penning,” was not especially valuable at the time, even though it’s made from silver, and was worth the equivalent of around $20 in today’s money.

“This penning was equivalent to the denar used in Hungary at the time,” Máté Varga, an archaeologist at the Rippl-Rónai Museum in the southern Hungarian city of Kaposvár and a doctoral student at the Hungary’s University of Szeged, told Live Science in an email. “It was not worth much — perhaps enough to feed a family for a day.”

An 1865 engraving of the Harald Hardrada penning coin. (Image credit: By Zeichner: C. I. Schive, Lithograf Bucher in Bergen – C. I. Schive: Norges Mynter i Middelalderen. Christiania 1865.

Metal detectorist Zoltán Csikós found the silver coin earlier this year at an archaeological site on the outskirts of the village of Várdomb, and handed it over to archaeologist András Németh at the Wosinsky Mór County Museum in the nearby city of Szekszárd.

The Várdomb site holds the remains of the medieval settlement of Kesztölc, one of the most important trading towns in the region at that time. Archaeologists have made hundreds of finds there, including dress ornaments and coins, Varga said.

There is considerable evidence of contact between medieval Hungary and Scandinavia, including Scandinavian artefacts found in Hungary and Hungarian artefacts found in Scandinavia that could have been brought there by trade or travelling craftsmen, Varga said.

But this is the first time a Scandinavian coin has been found in Hungary, he said.

Who was Harald Hardrada?

The coin found at the Várdomb site is in poor condition, but it’s recognizable as a Norwegian penning minted between 1046 and 1066 for King Harald Sigurdsson III — also known as Harald Hardrada — at Nidarnes or Nidaros(opens in new tab), a medieval mint at Trondheim in central Norway.

The description of a similar coin(opens in new tab) notes that the front features the name of the king “HARALD REX NO” — meaning Harald, king of Norway — and is decorated with a “triquetra,” a three-sided symbol representing Christianity’s Holy Trinity. 

The other side is marked with a Christian cross in double lines, two ornamental sets of dots, and another inscription naming the master of the mint at Nidarnes.

Harald Hardrada (“Hardrada” translates as “hard ruler” in Norwegian) was the son of a Norwegian chief and half-brother to the Norwegian king Olaf II, according to Britannica(opens in new tab). He lived at the end of the Viking Age and is sometimes considered the last of the great Viking warrior-kings.

This is a photo showing the Kirkwall Cathedral’s stained glass window of Harald Hardrada.

Traditional stories record that Harald fought alongside his half-brother at the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030, where Olaf was defeated and killed by the forces of an alliance between Norwegian rebels and the Danish; Harald fled in exile after that, first to Russia and then to the Byzantine Empire, where he became a prominent military leader.

He returned to Norway in 1045 and became its joint king with his nephew, Magnus I Olafsson; he became the sole king when Magnus died in battle against Denmark in 1047. 

Harald then spent many years trying to obtain the Danish throne, and in 1066 he attempted to conquer England by allying with the rebel forces of Tostig Godwinson, who was trying to take the kingdom from his brother, King Harold Godwinson.

But both Harald and Tostig were killed by Harold Godwinson’s forces at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in northern England in 1066; whereupon the victor and his armies had to cross the country just a few weeks before the Battle of Hastings against William of Normandy — which Harold Godwinson lost, and with it the kingdom of England.

Medieval travels

The penning found at Várdomb could have been lost more than 100 years after it was minted, but it’s more likely that it was in circulation for between 10 and 20 years, Varga and Németh said. That dating gives rise to a possible connection with a medieval Hungarian king named Solomon, who ruled from 1063 to 1087.

According to a medieval Hungarian illuminated manuscript known as the “Képes Krónika” (or “Chronicon Pictum” in Latin), Solomon and his retinue (a group of advisors and important people) encamped in 1074 “above the place called Kesztölc” — and so the archaeologists think one of Solomon’s courtiers at that time may have carried, and then lost, the exotic coin.

“The king’s court could have included people from all over the world, whether diplomatic or military leaders, who could have had such coins,” Varga and Németh said in a statement.

Another possibility is that the silver coin was brought to medieval Kesztölc by a common traveller: the trading town “was crossed by a major road with international traffic, the predecessor of which was a road built in Roman times along the Danube,” the researchers said in the statement.

“This road was used not only by kings, but also by merchants, pilgrims, and soldiers from far away, any of whom could have lost the rare silver coin,” they wrote. 

Further research could clarify the origins of the coin and its connection with the site; while no excavations are planned, Varga said, field surveys and further metal detection will be carried out at the site in the future.

Genetic Study Tracks Warriors from Mongolia to Hungary

Genetic Study Tracks Warriors from Mongolia to Hungary

Less known than Attila’s Huns, the Avars were their more successful successors. They ruled much of Central and Eastern Europe for almost 250 years. We know that they came from Central Asia in the sixth century CE, but ancient authors, as well as modern historians, have long debated their provenance.

Reconstruction of an Avar-period armoured horseman based on Grave 1341/1503 of the Derecske-Bikás-dűlő site (Déri Museum, Debrecen).

Now, a multidisciplinary research team of geneticists, archaeologists and historians, including researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, obtained and studied the first ancient genomes from the most important Avar elite sites discovered in contemporary Hungary.

This study traces the genetic origin of the Avar elite to a faraway region of East-Central Asia. It provides direct genetic evidence for one of the largest and most rapid long-distance migrations in ancient human history.

In the 560s, the Avars established an empire that lasted more than 200 years, centered in the Carpathian Basin. Despite much scholarly debate their initial homeland and origin have remained unclear.

They are primarily known from historical sources of their enemies, the Byzantines, who wondered about the origin of the fearsome Avar warriors after their sudden appearance in Europe. Had they come from the Rouran empire in the Mongolian steppe (which had just been destroyed by the Turks), or should one believe the Turks who strongly disputed such a legacy?

Historians have wondered whether that was a well-organized migrant group or a mixed band of fugitives. Archaeological research has pointed to many parallels between the Carpathian Basin and Eurasian nomadic artifacts (weapons, vessels, horse harnesses), for instance, a lunula-shaped pectoral of gold used as a symbol of power. We also know that the Avars introduced the stirrup in Europe. Yet we have so far not been able to trace their origin in the wide Eurasian steppes.

In this study, a multidisciplinary team—including researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, the ELTE University and the Institute of Archaeogenomics of Budapest, Harvard Medical School in Boston, the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton—analyzed 66 individuals from the Carpathian Basin.

The study included the eight richest Avar graves ever discovered, overflowing with golden objects, as well as other individuals from the region prior to and during the Avar age.

“We address a question that has been a mystery for more than 1400 years: who were the Avar elites, mysterious founders of an empire that almost crushed Constantinople and for more than 200 years ruled the lands of modern-day Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Austria, Croatia and Serbia?” explains Johannes Krause, senior author of the study.

Genetic Study Tracks Warriors from Mongolia to Hungary
Derecske-Bikás-dűlő, Grave 1341/1503 (Déri Museum, Debrecen).

Fastest long-distance migration in human history

The Avars did not leave written records about their history and these first genome-wide data provide robust clues about their origins.

“The historical contextualization of the archaeogenetic results allowed us to narrow down the timing of the proposed Avar migration.

They covered more than 5000 kilometres in a few years from Mongolia to the Caucasus, and after ten more years settled in what is now Hungary. This is the fastest long-distance migration in human history that we can reconstruct up to this point,” explains Choongwon Jeong, co-senior author of the study.

Guido Gnecchi-Ruscone, the lead author of the study, adds that “besides their clear affinity to Northeast Asia and their likely origin due to the fall of the Rouran Empire, we also see that the 7th-century Avar period elites show 20 to 30 per cent of additional non-local ancestry, likely associated with the North Caucasus and the Western Asian Steppe, which could suggest further migration from the Steppe after their arrival in the 6th century.”

The East Asian ancestry is found in individuals from several sites in the core settlement area between the Danube and Tisza rivers in modern-day central Hungary.

However, outside the primary settlement region, we find high variability in inter-individual levels of admixture, especially in the south-Hungarian site of Kölked. This suggests an immigrant Avars elite ruling a diverse population with the help of a heterogeneous local elite.

These exciting results show how much potential there is in the unprecedented collaboration between geneticists, archaeologists, historians and anthropologists for the research on the “Migration period” in the first millennium CE. The research was published in Cell.

Remains of twin fetuses and wealthy mom found in Bronze Age urn

Remains of twin fetuses and wealthy mom found in Bronze Age urn

During the Bronze Age, a pregnant woman carrying twins in what is now Hungary met a tragic end, dying either just before or during childbirth, according to a new study about her burial.

Remains of twin fetuses and wealthy mom found in Bronze Age urn
The remains of the elite woman (left) and twin fetuses (right) were cremated, but some of their bones (above) weren’t completely burned.

The woman and her twins were cremated and buried in an urn with lavish grave goods: a bronze neck ring, a gold hair ring and bone pins or needles, indicating that the woman was an elite individual, the researchers said. Moreover, a chemical analysis of the woman’s teeth and bones revealed that she wasn’t local but had travelled from afar, likely to marry into a new community, the researchers said.

“Although the external appearance of the urn is not so different from all the others, the prestige objects indicate that the woman stood at the apex of the community or as part of an emerging elite,” study lead researcher Claudio Cavazzuti, an assistant professor in the Department of History and Cultures at the University of Bologna in Italy, told Live Science in an email. 

Archaeologists found the woman and twins’ remains in a cemetery dating to the Hungarian Bronze Age (2150 B.C. to 1500 B.C.), which they uncovered during a rescue excavation ahead of the construction of a major supermarket by the Danube River, just a few miles south of Budapest. With 525 burials excavated so far, “the cemetery is one of the largest known in present-day Hungary for this period,” Cavazzuti said. There are likely several thousand more Bronze Age graves in the area that have yet to be excavated, he added.

These burials are from the Vatya culture, which thrived during the Hungarian Early and Middle Bronze Ages, from about 2200 B.C. to 1450 B.C., he said.

The Vatya people had a complex culture, with settlements supporting agricultural farming and livestock, and economy invested in local and long-distance trade (which explains how the Vatya acquired bronze, gold and amber from different parts of Central, Eastern and Northern Europe), and fortifications that controlled parts of the Danube River, Cavazzuti said.

To learn more about those buried in the cemetery, Cavazzuti and his colleagues did an in-depth analysis on 29 burials (26 urn cremations and three were buried). Except for the elite woman (who was buried with the twins), all of the sampled graves contained the remains of just one person, and most of those graves held simple grave goods made of ceramic or bronze.

About 20% of the Vatya burials at the site contained metal grave goods, “but prestige items, such as those of [the elite woman], are rare,” he said. 

The three buried individuals were adults of indeterminate sex. Of the cremated individuals, 20 were adults (11 females, seven males, two undetermined), two were children between the ages of 5 and 10, and four were between the ages of 2 and 5. But the youngest of the deceased were the twins, who were likely between 28 and 32 gestational weeks old. The elite woman was between 25 and 35 years old when she died, according to a skeletal analysis, the researchers found.

A further look at the elite woman’s bones indicated that she was cremated on a large pyre that likely burned for several hours. But when the fire extinguished, “the ashes were collected more carefully than usual (bone weight is 50% higher than average [compared with other cremated burials]) and deposited in an interesting early Vatya urn,” the researchers wrote in the study. Given that she was buried with the twin fetuses, the woman probably died from complications related to childbirth, the researchers said.

The elite woman’s grave goods included a bronze neck ring (1), gold hair ring (2) and bone pins/needles (3)

Where was she from?

The research team did a chemical analysis, which entailed looking at the different versions, or isotopes, or strontium in the deceased’s teeth and bones. Different regions have different ratios of strontium isotopes, which people absorb in the water and food they consume.

These strontium isotopes then end up in people’s bones and teeth, allowing researchers to measure and compare them with strontium isotopes found in the environment.

The vast majority of the individuals the team looked at had local strontium signatures, especially the men and children.

The elite woman, in contrast, was born elsewhere and moved to the region between the ages of 8 and 13, Cavazzuti said. Furthermore, an analysis of her grave goods revealed that the bronze neck ring and a gold ring were “prestige objects” similar to valuable items found in other burials and hoards in Central Europe, he said.

“It is not improbable that the neck-ring and pins/needles were meant to symbolize a link with her native land, whereas the gold hair-ring (a wedding gift?) embodied the new local identity she acquired by joining the [new] community at the highest rank,” the researchers wrote in the study.

Another buried woman, who did not have any grave goods, had a strontium signature from elsewhere, possibly from Lake Balaton in western Hungary or central Slovenia, the researchers noted.

Previous research has already shown that women in Europe — especially high-status ones — married outside their local communities since at least the late Neolithic or the Copper Age (about 3200 B.C. 2300 B.C.), Cavazzuti said. During the Bronze Age, societies across Europe were largely patrilocal, meaning that the men stayed in their hometowns while some women travelled from different communities to marry them. 

Perhaps these marriages were crucial to the emerging elite “in order to institute or reinforce political powers and military alliances, but also to secure routes [and] economic partnerships,” Cavazzuti said.

Hoard of silver and gold coins unearthed in central Hungary

Hoard of silver and gold coins unearthed in central Hungary

An attack by the Ottoman Army in the 16th century may have caused panicked Hungarians to bury a stash of precious silver and gold coins. Today, on a modern-day farm in Hungary, archaeologists have discovered this buried treasure.

In 2019, archaeologists discovered 150 ancient coins in Újlengyel, a Hungarian village that’s about 31 miles (50 kilometers) southeast of Budapest.

Spurred by this discovery and equipped with metal detectors, the archaeologists returned to the site at the end of December 2020 to look for other treasures, according to a Facebook post from the Ferenczy Museum in Hungary.

Hoard of silver and gold coins unearthed in central Hungary
Archaeologists discovered thousands of ancient coins buried on a Hungarian farm.

Balázs Nagy, the museum’s numismatist, or coin expert, led the two-day expedition, with help from volunteers with the Community Archaeological Association.

On a nearby hill, the archaeologists dug through a small shaft and unearthed a vessel that was broken in half, likely due to plowing, according to a statement. The vessel had originally held thousands of ancient coins that were found strewn about the shaft.

The newly discovered coin collection consisted of nearly 7,000 silver coins and four gold coins, according to the post.

The discovery in Újlengyel of hidden coins is a spectacular find, comprising seven thousand silver and four gold medieval coins in Hungary.

At the time the coins were probably buried, around 1520, they would have been worth enough to buy seven horses; and by today’s standards, they would be enough to buy a luxury car, according to the post.

The oldest coin is a silver denarius, or a Roman silver coin of Roman emperor Lucius Verus, who ruled from A.D.161 to A.D. 169. The newest coins in the hoard date to the time of Louis II, who ruled Hungary and Bohemia from 1516 to 1526.

The four gold coins, which were issued during the reign of Matthias I, the king of Hungary from 1458 to 1490, were hidden under a piece of fabric in the lining of the vessel, according to the statement.

Other finds included a rare coin issued by Pope Pius who ruled from 1458 to 1464 and silver coins issued during the reigns of several other 15th and 16th century rulers.

It’s unknown why people buried these coins, but the archaeologists hypothesize that Hungarians may have buried them during an attack from the Ottoman Empire in 1526.

“Treasures of this magnitude related to the Turkish devastation following the battle of Mohács are rare in Hungary,” according to a Facebook post.

(The Ottoman Empire, led by Suleiman the Magnificent, defeated Hungary and its allies in the Battle of Mohács on Aug. 29, 1526; this battle marked the end of the Hungarian monarchy and opened the way for Turkish and Habsburg rule of the region, according to Britannica.)

The museum is planning to continue to explore this site in search of other historical treasures.

Deformed ‘alien’ skulls offer clues about life during the Roman Empire’s collapse

Deformed ‘alien’ skulls offer clues about life during the Roman Empire’s collapse

The multicultural change between local residents and migrant Romans is documented by researchers studying deformed skulls from an old cemetery in Hungary.

Mönzs-Icsei dülő cemetery, founded in 430 AD and abandoned in 470 AD, in the settlement of Mözs near Szekszárd in the Pannonia region of present-day Hungary, was created in the late Roman period at the beginnings of Europe’s Migration Period when the barbarian Huns invaded Central Europe forcing the Romans to abandon their Pannonian provinces and retreat from modern-day Western Hungary.

The site was recently excavated by a new study integrating experimental isotope analysis and biological anthropology, which determine that seeking refuge from the Huns, new foreign groups arrived in Pannonia and integrated with the remaining local Romanized population.

The upper part of the body in Grave 43, during excavation. The girl had an artificially deformed skull; she was buried with a necklace, earrings, a comb, and glass beads.

These migrant waves sparked a period of rapid-onset, and chaotic cultural transitions, and the deformed skeletons recovered from Mözs-Icsei dülő cemetery held important clues about life and death during this turbulent time.

The new paper was published April 29, 2020, in the open-access journal  PLOS ONE  by Dr. Corina Knipper from the Curt-Engelhorn-Center for Archaeometry, Germany, István Koncz, Tivadar Vida from the Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary, and colleagues.

The authors first conducted an archaeological survey of the 5th-century cemetery, and then they combined isotope analysis with biological anthropology to interpret the burials.

What the pair of researchers found was a “remarkably diverse” ancient community consisting of two or three generations (96 burials total) of three distinctly different cultural groups.

The first was the founding, or local, group who were buried in brick-lined Roman-style graves, the second group comprised of 12 foreigners who arrived about a decade after the founders, and the third were a later culture, who blended Roman and various foreign traditions.

The brick-lined burial of Grave 54 represents late Antique traditions, which prevailed among the supposed founder generation of the cemetery.

The researchers think that the second group of 12 foreigners most probably established the ritual burial tradition of burying the deceased with elaborate grave goods, and also the practice of “cranial deformation,” which was found in 51 skeletons of adult males, females, and children.

Artificially deformed skull of an adult woman. Permanent binding during childhood caused the elongation of the braincase and the depressions in the bone.

Artificial cranial deformation, or modification, is commonly called head flattening, or head binding. This ancient form of body alteration in which a human child’s skull is deformed with blocks of wood bound to the skull under a constant force, was practiced on every continent of the prehistoric world.

However, Mözs-Icsei dülő cemetery represents one of the largest concentrations of this ancient aesthetic cultural phenomenon in the region; a practice that was generally reserved for societal elites.

Buckle in, it’s time for the science bit: according to researcher Doug Dvoracek from the Centre of Applied Isotope Studies at the University of Georgia , who was not involved in the new study, strontium isotopic ratios are widely used as indicators of provenance, residential origins and migration patterns of ancestral humans, in an archaeological context, where it provides “links to the land where food was grown or grazed.”

A number of deformed skulls used in the study.

The two researchers’ data showed the strontium isotope ratios measured on skeletons at the Mözs-Icsei dülő cemetery were “significantly more variable” than the prehistoric burials and animal remains excavated at other archaeological sites in the same geographic region in the Carpathian Basin.

In conclusion, the scientists say their isotopic analysis indicates most of Mözs’ adult population had lived elsewhere during their childhood and had migrated to Pannonia as teens and adults.

Moreover, carbon and nitrogen isotope data attest to what the scientists say were “remarkable contributions of millet” in the human diet.

Millets are a group of highly variable small-seeded grasses that were grown as cereal crops or grains for human food and fodder.

What ancient cultures who grew millets observed, but didn’t know why they had stronger bones, bigger muscles, tougher warriors and fitter farmers, because not only is millet gluten-free, but it also has high levels of protein, fiber, and antioxidants contents.

In the 5th century, the forested mountain ranges and resource-rich agricultural plains of what is today Hungary made this region a choice destination for fleeing Romans and other asylum seekers and refugees displaced by expanding Germanic armies.

And while archaeological and anthropological research in Hungary will continue, for now, the researchers have established that after the decline of the Roman Empire at least one community briefly emerged in Pannonia comprising local and Roman incomers who not only shared the same geographical space, but they blended and infused their burial rituals and traditions into a new multicultural system of internment.