Category Archives: WORLD

Reburied Medieval Remains Unearthed in Norway

Reburied Medieval Remains Unearthed in Norway

In summer, a somewhat unexpected traces of a large cemetery from the Middle Ages appeared in archaeological excavations in Kjøpmannsgata Norway.

Excavation work in connection with new building schemes took place in Kjøpmannsgata in 2019. As with all new builds in Norway, an archaeological examination of the site in central Trondheim has taken place.

The most highlighted work so far is the unelected cemetery. It’s surprising not only for its location but for its size. To date, 15 individual graves and three pit graves have been found.

The team of NIKU archaeologists is currently working in Trondheim.

Heads were turned last summer when one of these pits was uncovered. It contained the human remains of an estimated 200 people. It is believed these remains were excavated from other cemeteries and reburied here during development work sometime in the 17th century. Two more pit graves have since been found.

As it doesn’t appear on any maps, it is not yet known when this cemetery was built or for how long it has been in use. These are some of the questions archaeologists are hoping to answer during the investigation.

A team from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) is currently working on the site of the former Kjøpmannsgata cemetery under a heated tent.

Archaeologists are closely studying a 12-square-meter area of the cemetery. Although 15 graves have been found so far, they expect the final count to be up to 30. Of those found far, seven were adults, five were children, with three yet to be excavated.

“There are probably even more graves further down. All of these individual graves are in situ, i.e. located in the same place as when they were buried, but several have been partially destroyed. In many cases, only the upper body has been preserved.

The lower half can be cut by, for example, other graves being laid over or by later excavation work.” Those were the words of NIKU project manager Silje Rullestad.

The cemetery has been clearly impacted by several stages of building work, but the team can nevertheless see a clear structure. The northern boundary of the area appears to be marked by a ditch, while four post holes suggest a clear boundary mark.

“This collection and reburial of bones must have been an extensive job,” says archaeologist Monica Svendsen. She is responsible for the digital mapping and documentation of the excavation.

She explains that all three pits consist of deep wooden boxes filled with human bones. They Replaced parallel to the trench that archaeologists assume marks the medieval demarcation of the cemetery.

At the same time as the cemetery excavation is underway, a survey will also be conducted. In collaboration with COWI, NIKU will systematically take samples of soil and human bones to survey soil and biochemical conditions in the cemetery soil.

“From the archaeological excavation of the St. Clement’s Church churchyard, large variations in the degree of conservation of the skeletons were observed. We also see the same here in Kjøpmannsgata. Using the study, we will try to map out why the differences in conservation conditions vary within small distances,” says Rullestad.

The survey could provide a better understanding of the conditions that affect the preservation of human remains.

1,200-Year-Old Viking Runestone May Warn of Climate Change, Study Says

1,200-Year-Old Viking Runestone May Warn of Climate Change, Study Says

Most people in the modern world are very worried about climate change and the Vikings seem to also be very worried about climate change.

Scientists are now claiming that one of the most popular runestones, erected by Vikings, shows they feared a cataclysmic fall in the temperature and terrible winters. This probably influenced the development of their culture and myths such as Ragnarök.

When they made the discovery, researchers reinterpreted this Viking runestone, known as the Rök Stone. This is a stone that is covered in runes, which are the characters of the written language of the Viking world.

It was founded in the beginning of the 9th century in the south of Sweden near Vättern lake. The BBC reports that it “believes to be the world’s longest runic inscription, with more than 700 runes covering its five sides.”

It was long believed that the stone was erected by a person of some social standing to commemorate a dead son.  It also alluded to battles that took place in the past, and a reference to Theodoric, which may be a reference to the Ostrogothic king who built a powerful Germanic kingdom based in Italy.

He was one of the most powerful monarchs of his time and often simply known as Theodoric the Great. However, the meaning of the texts has remained mysterious, because the writing styles are unusual, and some important parts are missing.

Full shot of the Viking runestone (‘the Rök Stone’) that is now believed to show the Viking’s fears of climate change.

A multidisciplinary study involving three Swedish Universities believes that this Viking runestone also had another meaning. Researchers from disciplines such as philology, semiotics, and history, collaborated on the study, which revealed an important allusion in the writing. They have interpreted the runes as referring to a period of extreme winter and cool summers, which the Vikings feared greatly.

The researchers in a new study state that “the inscription deals with anxiety triggered by a son’s death and the fear of a new climate crisis,” reports Live Science.

They believe that the runes refer to the climate crisis of 536 AD. A series of volcanic eruptions in the sixth century in the southern hemisphere, caused the temperature to fall, leading to very cold winters

The cooling in the climate caused harvest failures and famine.  The 6th-century crisis, as it is known, led to the population of Scandinavia falling by 50%. This cataclysmic time was passed down in the folk memory of the Vikings and may have been expressed in myths, particularly in the tale of the Fimbulwinter. This was a three-year winter that would proceed Ragnarök, the end of the world.

A scene from the last phase of Ragnarök, after Surtr has engulfed the world with fire, ‘the end of the world’.

Researchers believe that the Vikings feared that there would be a repeat of the climate crisis, even centuries after it devastated Scandinavia.

They believe that the references to battles may be allusions to drastic changes in the climate, which occurred in the 6th century. The experts argue that the battles may illustrate “the conflict between light and darkness, warmth and cold, life and death,” according to the BBC.

The Viking runestone does not only indicate an awareness of the impact of a past climate change but also a fear of a new one. Ominous events from the author of the runes are also recorded, which may have been seen as signs of an impending climate crisis. 

These included a solar eclipse and a cold summer that reduced crop yields. Bo Graslund, an archaeology professor at Upsala University, told Science Alert “even one of these events would have been enough to raise fears of another Fimbulwinter,” as in the myth of Ragnarök.

Uppsala University Publications, reports that the researchers interpret the runes as referring to “nine enigmatic questions. Five of the questions concern the sun, and four of them, it is argued, ask about issues related to the god Odin.”

The exact meaning of the questions is unknown, but they would seem to suggest anxiety about the sun and climatic cooling. They may indicate a concern that the sun may fail to warm the earth, as in the 6th-century climate crisis, leading to a long winter and the onset of Ragnarök.

The researchers’ new interpretation also found similarities between the texts and “early Scandinavian poetry, especially in the Eddic poem Vafþrúðnismál,” according to Uppsala University Publications.

This new interpretation of the Viking runestone is providing new insights. It demonstrates that the fear of climate change greatly influenced the Viking’s worldview and culture. Additionally, the runestone shows them to be deeply conscious of the fragility of their society and world.

Secrets of an astonishingly well-preserved 2,600-year-old human brain

Secrets of an astonishingly well-preserved 2,600-year-old human brain

Experts who researched an iron-age skull brain of 2,600 years of old have found evidence to explain why it survived until modern times in a mud pit. The answers could shed light on the treatment of brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Secrets of an astonishingly well-preserved 2,600-year-old human brain
A sample of the Heslington brain.

The brain, that came from a UK man who died more than 2,000 years ago, survived all those years without decomposition, has been found by a team of international researchers.

This research, which was published in the Royal Society Interface Journal, reveals how the scientists examined brain tissue for months and concentrated on protein in the tissue to help them understand deeper the functioning of the brain.

The brain was discovered first in a hidden inside mud pit in Heslington, Yorkshire, England in 2008. The brain was known as the Heslington brain.

Many scientists claim that the brain is the oldest one ever found in Eurasia, being dubbed as the best-preserved brain worldwide. The brain dates to about 482 to 673 BC, which was the start of the Iron Age.

The analysis of the brain tissue showed that it was from a male who was likely decapitated. The brain tissue had withstood many factors but had managed to survive for thousands of years. Now, scientists have unlocked one of the mysteries surrounding the brain tissue.

The researchers have carried out the first-ever detailed analysis of the brain tissue using powerful microscopes. The team scanned the brain with a focused beam of electrons.

The brain was studied at a molecular level, focusing on the presence of proteins that are harder than any other material found in the brain.

The skull with preserved brain material inside.

They found more than 800 proteins in the tissue sample. Some were in good condition, and they were able to study and work up an immune response to them. Further, they found that the proteins had folded themselves into tight-packed stable aggregates that were more stable than those found in the normal and healthy brain today.

The skull within which the brain was found.

The formation of the aggregate explains how the brain was able to evade decomposition and got preserved for thousands of years.

They also pinpointed that the environment where the skull was discovered had helped in the preservation. The fine-grain sediment was cold and wet, which may have warded off oxygen that the flesh-eating microorganism need to survive.

The study findings can help scientists today study brains diseases, such as dementia, that are related to protein folding and aggregate formation.

Diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease involve the development of rogue proteins dubbed as amyloid and tau. These proteins work by killing brain cells when they clump together.

In the case of the preserved brain, it was the process of aggregate formation that allowed the brain to survive across more than 2,000 years.

The discovery of the tight-packed aggregates provided new proof for the long-lasting stability of non-amyloid protein aggregates, which permit the preservation of brain proteins.

The brain tissue offers a unique chance to use molecular tools to examine how to preserve human brain proteins. Eventually, this could help scientists to find a way to battle dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease.

Dementia affects around 50 million people worldwide, with 10 million new cases each year. By 2030, the projected number of people with dementia is 82 million and 152 million by 2050.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and irreversible brain disorder that gradually damages memory and cognitive skills. In the long run, patients with the condition may have problems with simple tasks.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, and in the United States, it is the 6th leading cause of death.

Ancient rock art at Carnarvon Gorge destroyed after walkway explodes in bushfire

The aftermath of fire damage to important rock art at the Baloon Cave tourist destination, Carnarvon Gorge, Queensland, Australia

The ancient aboriginal rock art in the Baloon Cave in Australia can not be restored following the fire damage, caused by a recycled plastic walkway, ignited into a fireball in 2018.

After the recycled plastic walkway, old rock art including handprints and carving petroglyphs was destroyed, supposedly protecting the site, exploded into a ball of flames during a bushfire in Carnarvon National Park last year.

The artwork dating back several thousands of years has now been lost forever as experts who assessed the site announced that it cannot possibly be restored.

Some of the painted hand stencils date back 8,000 years while others had been created in more recent times, and Dale Harding, a member of the Baloon Cave working group, told that the Aboriginal rock art was part of an ongoing cultural project providing links between his Bidjara, Ghungalu and Garingbal ancestors. Now, after realizing the extent of the destruction caused at Baloon Cave during 2018’s devastating Queensland bushfires, Mr. Harding has called for the removal of “all flammable structures” at vulnerable sites across the country.

Furthermore, the Brisbane Times spoke with Griffith University anthropologist and archaeologist, Paul Tacon, who described the fire as “a huge bomb going off” and that he was “horrified” to see the damage and destruction first-hand at the site.

Aboriginal rock art (hafted stone axe and hand stencils) before the bushfire that destroyed the Baloon Cave in Queensland in 2018.

Talking of what the loss means, culturally, to the indigenous Bidjara, Ghungalu and Garingbal communities, Mr. Harding said the art was the “foundation and the basis of who I identify as.” He added that his elders describe the whole Aboriginal rock art network as being “a university, a hospital and a cathedral” and that the incident was akin to the “destruction of Notre Dame Cathedral for the people of Paris, and that can’t be taken back,” he lamented.

Trying to understand how such a terrible thing could happen, Professor Tacon said the destruction would “not have occurred” if it hadn’t been for the installation of recycled plastic walkways, which he describes as “solidified petroleum.” Tacon said that if you have a hot fire underneath these plastics, they melt and then explode into a fireball, “and that’s exactly what happened.”

Detailing the damage, Professor Tacon said a chunk of rock from a set of “hafted stone axes” located high on the wall broke away and what’s left now has a large crack running through it. What’s more, the ancient cave art also suffered extensive water damage from the steam that was released from the plastic as it burned.

The same Aboriginal rock art as above but after the explosion.

What is perhaps most worrying in this story is that a similar incident occurred in 2008 when a fire at Keep River in the Northern Territory set off another recycled-plastic walkway, and that fireball also caused numerous paintings and engravings within a natural stone archway to crack and crumble away.

Professor Tacon said “this stuff is really dangerous,” and he wants to see political steps taken to assure “no-one ever uses this [recycled-plastic] in a rock shelter with art again.” He suggested replacing them with “non-destructive platforms made out of steel, or concrete and steel.”

Responding to the cultural catastrophe Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch said that personally, she was absolutely devastated, being herself a Quandamooka woman from North Stradbroke Island. After visiting the damaged site, she said she had “felt every bit of the pain that everybody else felt and that there were a lot of tears shed that day,” and that experts had assessed the site confirming it could not be restored.

Since last year, Ms. Enoch’s Environment department has removed plastic boardwalks from other sites of cultural heritage around Queensland, but she outright rejected Professor Tacon’s suggesting that wooden boardwalks should also be removed.

However, this case of destruction at the Baloon Cave is only the beginning of the end for Australia’s ancient arts, most of which are set to vanish as a consequence of environmental pollution.

A Creative Spirits article explains that the “groove depth” measured on petroglyphs has decreased significantly over the last few decades because of a sharp increase in the number of cars in Australia.

Robert Bednarik, the founder of the Australian Rock Art Research Association, said small changes in carbon dioxide levels, temperature, and humidity, influence the growth of microorganisms and algae, which cause irreparable damage.

Even if an ancient engraving is not directly exposed to rain, Aboriginal rock engravings crumble by about half a grain of rock per year, through dew and fog settling in the grooves. While traditionally it was customary for indigenous specialists to repair and renew their ancestral artworks, National Parks today forbid Aboriginal people to do this. Thus, the only petroglyphs that you will see 100 years from now, according to Dr. Bednarik, are those very deeply carved, representing a small minority.

Talking of cultural issues in the land down under, it would seem Australian political culture has run ahead of itself and the relentless fight for control is having a catastrophic effect on the environment and on Aboriginal culture. Only yesterday a Daily Mail article reported that the Green’s political party leader, Richard Di Natale is regularly criticized by the Conservatives for opposing “hazard-reduction burns,” and Facebook critics have accused the Greens of being responsible for the current bushfires.

The bushfire that ravaged Carnarvon National Park and destroyed the Aboriginal rock art in 2018.

Now, the Australian environment minister is resisting getting rid of dangerous wooden walkways and cultural authorities won’t allow the repainting of rock art by indigenous craftspeople. Even though Dr. Bednarik says without this type of preservation most of them will be gone within a century. We do indeed live in a topsy-turvy world, in which carts so often lead horses, and politicians advise scientists.

2,500 Years Ago, Herodotus Described a Weird Ship. Now, Archaeologists Have Found it.

2,500 Years Ago, Herodotus Described a Weird Ship. Now, Archaeologists Have Found it.

Herodotus may be considered the father of history, but he is not specifically proven to be accurate. Still, Dalya Alberge reports for the Guardian, the discovery of an ancient vessel that matches one described in the chronicler’s Histories adds weight to a fragment of his lengthy account.

The hull of the ancient vessel

Archaeologists chanced upon the boat in question—officially dubbed ship 17—while excavating the sunken Egyptian port city of Thonis-Heracleion. First unearthed in 2000, Live Science’s Laura Geggel writes, the site has since yielded more than 70 vessels dating from the 8th to 2nd century B.C.

“It wasn’t until we discovered this wreck that we realized Herodotus was right,” Damian Robinson, director of the Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology, which published a recent monograph detailing the find, tells Alberge. “What Herodotus described was what we were looking at.”

Herodotus dedicates 23 lines of his Histories to the construction of a Nile cargo boat known by locals as a baris. This fragment, penned around 450 B.C., stems from the historian’s travels to Egypt and, according to Science Alert’s Michelle Starr, tells of a papyrus-sailed ship crafted in the style of brickwork with a rudder running through a hole in its keel.

In his account, Herodotus documents the creation of “thorny acacia” boats that “cannot sail up the river unless there be a very fresh wind blowing, but are towed from the shore.”

He continues, “They have a door-shaped crate made of tamarisk wood and reed mats sewn together, and also a stone of about two talents weight bored with a hole.” As the crate floats in front of the boat, the stone grounds it from behind; together, these opposing forces keep the vessel moving swiftly on a straight course.

Artist’s rendering of the shipwrecked vessel

Writing in a 2013 study, Alexander Belov, an archaeologist at the Center for Egyptological Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences and author of the new Ship 17: A Baris From Thonis-Heracleion monograph, notes that the acacia planks evident in ship 17 “are staggered in a way that gives it the appearance of ‘courses of bricks,’ as described by Herodotus.”

The Guardian’s Alberge adds that the crescent-shaped hull’s pattern of thick planks connected with pegs and tenons, or smaller adjoining pieces of wood, aligns closely with the historian’s description of the baris’ “internal ribs.”

Prior to ship 17’s discovery, contemporary archaeologists had never encountered this architectural style. But upon examining the hull’s well-preserved remains, which constitute some 70 percent of the original structure, researchers found a singular feat of design.

An archaeologist examines how the ancient vessel's keel was put together.
An archaeologist examines how the ancient vessel’s keel was put together.

At the peak of its maritime career, ship 17 likely measured up to 92 feet—significantly longer than the baris described by Herodotus, as Science Alert’s Starr points out, making it differ slightly from the one detailed in Histories: Whereas Herodotus’ vessel had shorter tenons and no reinforcing frames, the recovered boat has longer tenons and several reinforcing frames.

Although ship 17 is believed to have sunk during the first half of the 5th century B.C., Robinson tells Live Science’s Geggel that it probably dates to the 6th century B.C. and was “reused as a … floating jetty at the end of its working life as a ship.”

Archaeologists believe the Thonis-Heracleion baris were used to move goods to and from emporiums along the Nile River. In addition to transporting imports from the Greek and Persian worlds to cities across the Nile valley, the ship and others like it would have brought Egyptian goods including grain and salt to the harbor for export.

Remains of 50 skeletons from the dawn of Britain’s Roman occupation 2,000 years ago unearthed by construction workers building a new school in Somerset

Remains of 50 skeletons from the dawn of Britain’s Roman occupation 2,000 years ago unearthed by construction workers building a new school in Somerset

Building workers in the UK have unearthed a large  Roman-era cemetery. The burials are of an unusual type, showing spectacular changes in the funerary customs of locals in the 1st century AD.

This cemetery helps historians to understand better understand a key period in British history, namely the transition from a Celtic to Roman culture and society

When they worked on a new building that would replace the old one, the workers unearthed the Roman cemetery. It was found near Somerton, Somerset in Southern England. The relevant authorities were notified as required by law and work on the new building was paused.

One of the skeletons alongside a pot found at the Roman burial site.

The South West Heritage Trust then began to investigate the site and what they found was astonishing. Archaeologists conducted the most comprehensive excavation of a Roman burial site ever in the region. During the dig, they used drones and other innovative technology.

Steve Membery, of the Heritage Trust, told BBC that “this site is a significant discovery.” Just over fifty burials were found, and they are dated to the 1 st century AD.

This is the time when Rome conquered the Celtic tribes that had previously inhabited the area. It was an era of profound political, social and cultural changes.

One of the skeletons in the stone coffin structure with a pot (at bottom of the shot) unearthed at the Roman burial site.

The nature of the graves was something that astonished the archaeologists. Most of the graves  “were dug into the bedrock and lined with stone curbs to create a coffin structure,” reports the BBC. These slabs were also used in the construction of roofs in the early Roman period. 

The BBC reports that “in one particularly unusual grave, slabs were used to create a tent-like structure above the person who was buried.” This is similar to other burials in Western Europe, but it’s rare in England and this custom was possibly brought to the area by Romans.

The nature of the graves indicates that the early influence of Roman funerary customs. In the older graves, from before the invasion, the dead were simply compressed into a burial place.

After the conquest, the graves were built with more care and the bodies laid flat. Findings from the grave of one woman suggest that her head was propped on a pillow when she was buried.

Interestingly, small nails were found in the later graves, which seems to show that people were buried wearing hob-nailed boots. Membery told The Guardian that “the individuals were evidently of some status.” Additionally, some grave goods were found, including brooches, coins, and pottery.

One of the brooches found at the Roman burial site in Somerset.

One intact pot was found to have the remains of a chicken, who was possibly sacrificed during a burial ceremony. These finds show the influence of Rome on the local population, and how quickly it adopted the customs of the invaders.

The miraculously preserved pot uncovered at the Roman burial site.

DNA testing is being conducted on the bodies to determine their origin. It is believed that they are the remains of Romano-Britons. They had probably been Romanized and had adopted many of the beliefs and practices of the new ruling class.  They possibly came from a nearby villa. It should be noted that the outbuildings of this villa have been found but not the actual building.

However, archaeologists are reluctant to positively state the remains belong to Celts who had adopted the culture of Rome.

Recently some Roman-era graves were found that hold the remains of those with Asian ancestry. Membery is quoted by The BBC as saying that this “find means archaeologists in Somerset are hesitant to make assumptions about the possible origins of people whose remains are unearthed.”

Coins found at the Roman burial site dating back to Roman Emperor Vespasian.

The find is changing the history of the area. Local public representative Cllr Faye Purbrick, stated: “The findings are both exciting and extraordinary, providing us with valuable insight into Somerset’s early history.” Moreover, they are showing how quickly and profoundly the Romans changed the local people and their beliefs.

Based on the changing burial customs, the Romanization of the ancient Celtic people occurred very quickly. Further investigations are underway in Somerton and a summary of the findings will be published in an academic journal in the future.

Huge Hoard of 1000-year-old Yotvingian Weapons Unearthed in Poland

Huge Hoard of 1000-year-old Yotvingian Weapons Unearthed in Poland

Among hundreds of artifacts from a long-disappeared person famous for its warrior culture, archeological specialists discovered rare swords, spears, and knives in the Suwałki region of eastern Poland.

Such weapons belonged to 500 artifacts that were excavated on the site of a Yotvingians cemetery dating back around 1,000 years

A Baltic people the Yotvingians had cultural ties to the Lithuanians and Prussians.

Occupying an area of land that now straddles parts of Poland, Lithuania and Belarus they spoke a language related to Old Prussian but were, over time, absorbed into the larger Slavic and Germanic groups that surrounded them.

They were famed for their warrior culture and were regarded as good fighters and hunters.

A map showing the ancient land of the Yotvingians.

The new find, described by archaeologists as the “biggest Yotvingian cemetery from the early Middle Ages,” has helped historians gain fresh information on an ancient people long lost to time.

Spearheads, helmets and other items found at the Germanic burial site in Kostrzyn, Poland, earlier this year.

“The area is very rich in Yotvingian culture and rituals,” Jerzy Siemaszko, an archaeologist from the Suwałki District Museum, told PAP. “Getting to the items has been quite easy because they are in a layer about 20-30 centimeters beneath the surface of the ground.

“The area was used by the Yotvingians in the early Middle Ages, between the 11th and 13th centuries,” he added. “It was the site of the very unusual crematory cemetery where the remains of funeral pyres were dumped along with gifts for the dead.”

Although the find has unearthed 500 items some 1,000 may have been stolen by grave robbers.

The excitement generated by the find has, however, been tempered by the fact that treasure hunters appeared to have got there first, stealing an estimated 1,000 items despite the fact that such actions are illegal and bring with them a stint in prison of up to 10 years.

The area of the find is now secured and it’s whereabouts kept secret to prevent further robbery.

Skeleton of Ancient Sports Fan Found Buried with Head-Shaped Jar

Skeleton of Ancient Sports Fan Found Buried with Head-Shaped Jar

A 3rd-century A.D. man’s grave in Bulgaria contained a strigil and curiously crafted balsamarium- a vessel from skin- cleansing oils- in the shape of a man’s head fitted with a feline-skin cap, which may be a reference to the Nemean lion slain by Hercules.

In a Roman-era grave in Bulgaria, a unique brass vessel in the form of a man’s head was discovered. The tomb was found in the Kral Mezar tumulus in southeastern Bulgaria, near the village of Boyanovo.

Over the centuries the tumulus had been repeatedly plundered and agricultural activities changed their shape and size,  so a salvage archaeology mission was undertaken in 2015 to excavate it thoroughly.

Inside the tumulus, archaeologists discovered three burials — a sarcophagus, a brick grave, and a tomb. The limestone sarcophagus with a pitched roof lid (found broken on the side) dates to around 150-200 A.D. Sarcophagi are rare finds in Roman Thrace and are believed to have contained the remains of non-Thracians.

The tomb was built of stone and brick with plastered and painted interior walls. It was heavily looted, but the extant funerary goods include bone spindles, needles, glass beads, glass, and ceramic fragments and clay lamp fragments.

A silver denarius from the reign of Caracalla minted in 202 A.D. was found on the tomb floor. Because of the textile-making grave goods, archaeologists believe this was a woman’s tomb.

But it was the third burial, the brick grave, that contained a truly striking artifact. The rectangular pit was lined with bricks coated with a thick layer of white plaster.

Marks on top of the brick walls indicate there had once been wooden beams across the top forming a flat roof. This type of grave was popular in Roman Thrace, particularly in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

The body had been placed in a wooden coffin of which only a few iron nails survive. The skeletal remains are still articulated and just shy of six feet long (1.82 meters). The osteological analysis found the deceased was an adult male about 35-40 years old at the time of death.

Inside the grave was a bronze coin of Caracalla minted in Hadrianopolis 198-217 A.D., fragments from a glass flask, the remains of two pairs of hobnailed shoes, a balsamarium, and a strigil.

“In our opinion, the grave belongs to a Thracian aristocrat, who has practiced sport in his everyday life, rather than to a professional athlete,” Daniela Agre, an archaeologist at the National Archaeological Institute with Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, who led archaeological work at the site, told Live Science. 

“We think that the tumulus was used as a family necropolis and the deceased was a part of this family,” Agre said.

The strigil is brass, of a type found in other Bulgarian graves from the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The balsamarium is also brass, but it is far from a type seen in other Bulgarian graves of the period. In fact, it is unique in the archaeological record of Roman Thrace.

This type of container is believed to have been used to hold scented oils or perfumes for use in the baths, which is why they’re often found coupled with strigils that would have scraped the oil off the skin to clean and exfoliate.

It is 4.7 inches high, 4.2 inches wide and is shaped like the head of a man wearing an animal-skin skullcap. The visible features of the animal’s head — nostrils, eyes, canine teeth in the lower jaw — suggest it was a feline.

A neck draped with robes forms the foot of the vessel with a flat bottom made from a single metal sheet. There’s a hole in the top of the head for a hinged lid that is now lost. On either side of the opening are loops where a swing handle was attached. There’s still a handle attached through one of the loops; the other side of the handle is broken.

The man’s face is broad with shaved cheeks and a neatly shaped goatee. His nose viewed from profile has a proud aquiline bump. Seen from the front, it is bent to the left and widened at the base, suggesting that it has seen the business end of more than a few clenched fists. Five vessels with comparable features are found in museums in Los Angeles, France, and Germany.

Scholars believe these features — the bent aquiline nose, the goatee, the skullcaps, the lock of hair on the back of the head — represent the heads of boxers or wrestlers.

The Boyanovo piece is distinct from these comparables because it does not have the lock of hair and because of its feline skin cap. The former is likely necessitated by the latter; the sculptor couldn’t include both the lock of hair and the incredibly detailed feline skin covering the back of the hair.