Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Major Discovery in Peril

The discovery of the source of the Aqua Traiana, an aqueduct built by Trajan for the city of Rome, was announced earlier this year. The physical remains of the aqueduct's source had been unknown until recently, but what is believed to be abbreviated representations of its castellum survives on bronze coins of Trajan with the legend AQVA TRAIANA.

Unfortunately, efforts at preserving and studying this important site further are now being jeopardized.

The Telegraph reports:

In January father and son team Edward and Michael O'Neill discovered the headwaters of the aqueduct, which was built by the Emperor Trajan, hidden beneath a crumbling 13th century church north of Rome.

A sophisticated example of Roman hydraulic engineering, the aqueduct, known as the Aqua Traiana, was inaugurated in 109AD and carried fresh water 35 miles to the imperial capital.

But since the discovery was publicised, the archeologists claim that the farmer on whose land it stands has begun a crude excavation of the site in the hope of finding valuable Roman treasure.

They claim to have photographic evidence that the owner has burned vegetation around the entrance to the underground grotto, cut down mature fig trees which are holding the fragile structure together with their thick roots and started to dismantle sections of masonry.

"It's a complete tragedy," Edward O'Neill told the Daily Telegraph. "He's doing some kind of treasure hunt.

"What is needed is an expert process by archeologists to preserve the site." Repeated telephone calls to the landowner, Davide Piccioni, went unanswered yesterday.

In an attempt to stop the alleged damage to the site, the O'Neills and two American archeologists – Prof Katherine Rinne of Virginia University and Prof Rabun Taylor of the University of Texas at Austin – have sent a letter to Italian heritage authorities.

They have called for urgent intervention in order to prevent the landowner from further damaging the site, which they say has been "completely transformed" in the last six months.

They have also complained that the farmer has closed off access to the site since the grotto and spring were discovered five months ago.

The mayor of the local town, Lucia Dutto, said she too was concerned. "We have asked the superintendent of archaeology to carry out an immediate inspection of the site, so that further interference can be prevented. But until that happens, we can do nothing because it is private property."

Monday, June 7, 2010

Gladiator Cemetery Found in Northern England?

From CNN:

Heads hacked off, a bite from a lion, tiger or bear, massive muscles on massive men -- all clues that an ancient cemetery uncovered in northern England is the final resting place of gladiators, scientists have announced after seven years of investigations.

The archeological dig has found "what may be the world's only well-preserved Roman gladiator cemetery," the York Archaeological Trust said.

Scientists have found 80 skeletons in the "unique" cemetery under the city of York, northern England, since 2003.

They announced their discoveries on Sunday, ahead of a documentary about the site due to air in Britain on June 14. This was one of two big archaeological developments, with Israeli scientists announcing the discovery of a huge cache of ancient religious objects.

They first thought the graveyard might contain the remains of criminals or political purges.

But that doesn't explain the teeth mark.

"One of the most significant items of evidence is a large carnivore bite mark - probably inflicted by a lion, tiger or bear -- an injury which must have been sustained in an arena context, " said Kurt Hunter-Mann, the lead archeologist on the dig.

"Nothing like them has ever been identified before on a Roman skeleton," said Michael Wysocki, who examined the remains in the forensic anthropology laboratory at the University of Central Lancashire.

He said the bite marks suggest the remains were of someone who fought as a gladiator.

"It would seem highly unlikely that this individual was attacked by a tiger as he was walking home from the pub in York 2,000 years ago," he said.

One arm was bigger than the other in many remains, the scientists found -- a suggestion that the men were gladiators who trained from a young age with a weapon in one hand.

Other clues include healed and unhealed weapon injuries, possible hammer blows to the head, and burial with "grave goods" such joints of meat or pottery -- a sign of respect.

It's not certain that the men were gladiators, Hunter-Mann cautioned.

"The research is continuing and we must, therefore, keep an open mind," the archeologist said.

But "almost all the individuals are male, very robust and mostly above average height -- features which would also be consistent with a gladiator interpretation. Many also have muscle attachment marks on their arm bones suggesting severe muscle stress," he said.

They also appear to come from all over the Roman empire, which straddled the Mediterranean for hundreds of years, starting more than 2,000 years ago.

"These are internationally important discoveries. We don't have any other potential gladiator cemeteries with this level of preservation anywhere else in the world," Wysocki said.

The skeletons are between 1,600 and 1,900 years old.

The most impressive grave was that of a tall man aged between 18 and 23, buried, probably in a coffin, in a large oval grave about 1,700 years ago. He had been decapitated by several sword blows to the neck, the scientists said.

Buried with him were what appear to have been the remains of substantial joints of meat from at least four horses -- that left behind 424 horse bones -- possibly consumed at the funeral, plus some cow and pig remains.

Other graves also had joints of horse, sheep or chicken, possibly remains of funeral feasts, the archeologists speculated.

The site was first discovered when archeologists probed an area scheduled for a housing development in 2003.

Also on Monday, Israeli archeologists announced the discovery of a huge cache of religious objects about 3,500 years old -- older than the Bible itself, and nearly twice the age of the Roman skeletons.

"It would appear that the vessels were used in a pagan cult that worshipped idols. During this period it was customary that each city had a temple of its own where special cultic vessels were used," said archaeologists Uzi Ad and Edwin van den Brink.

They include a vessel that was used for burning incense, a sculpted face of a woman that was part of a cultic cup used in dedicating a libation to a god, goblets and bowls with high bases and tableware that was intended for eating and drinking, the Israel Antiquities Authority said.