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From the Trenches

Seals of Approval

By MARLEY BROWN

Monday, February 12, 2018

Trenches Turkey Doliche Clay Seals

 

Archaeologists working in the ancient city of Doliche, now Dülük in modern-day Turkey, have uncovered a large collection of 1,800-year-old clay seals called bullae, which date to the period when the city was part of the Roman province of Syria. Many of the bullae appear to have been used for official government business and show various deities, including depictions of Roman emperors shaking hands with Jupiter Dolichenus, a thunder and war god indigenous to the area, whose cult spread across the Roman Empire in the second and third centuries A.D. “It is one of the great enigmas in the history of Roman religion that the main local god from a second-tier city of the north Syrian hinterland developed into one of the best attended cults of the empire,” says Michael Blömer, codirector of the University of Münster excavations. According to Blömer, “In one seal, the emperor is actually shown worshipping Jupiter Dolichenus. This close bond between a local deity and the emperor is a very peculiar motif and points to a special connection between Doliche and the imperial center.” This connection may partly explain how the god became so popular.

 

Trenches Turkey Doliche Aerial

Head in the Sand

By MARLEY BROWN

Monday, February 12, 2018

Trenches California Sphinx Head

 

A piece of American cinematic history has been uncovered in California’s Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes. Researchers have removed the head of a 13-foot-tall plaster sphinx built for Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 silent film The Ten Commandments, one of 21 sphinxes designed by French artist Paul Iribe for a massive Egyptian Exodus set. Since the 1990s, efforts have been under way to find remains of the set, which DeMille deliberately buried to prevent other filmmakers from using it. According to Doug Jenzen, director of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center, rapidly shifting sands will soon leave the remaining material vulnerable to disintegration, allowing little time to save evidence of a pivotal moment in U.S. popular culture. “These silent films were successful enough that the production companies were willing to experiment at great expense,” he says. “If they had tanked, perhaps we wouldn’t have Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. If these movies had flopped, we wouldn’t have the blockbuster films we have today.”

 

Trenches California Plaster Sphinx

The Venus of Vlakno

By ZACH ZORICH

Monday, February 12, 2018

Trenches Croatia Bone Figurine SmallA 15,000-year-old bone pendant found at Vlakno Cave in Croatia may be a late type of Venus figurine, such as the famous Venus of Willendorf, which dates to more than 24,000 years ago. The Croatian Venus is a more slender and abstract human figure than the zaftig woman of Willendorf. The geometric pattern on the bone is similar to patterns found on other pieces of art from the Epigravettian period, during which sea levels were approximately 400 feet lower than they are now. What is today the northern Adriatic Sea was a broad plain that supported large herds of game animals hunted by the people at Vlakno. Other than the Venus pendant, however, no art produced by the Epigravettian people has turned up. Some perforated deer teeth and seashells are the only other symbolic artifacts found at the site.

Caesar’s English Beachhead

By JASON URBANUS

Monday, February 12, 2018

Trenches England Ebbsfleet ExcavationTrenches England Ebbsfleet Javelin Tip horizontalAlmost one hundred years before the Roman Empire conquered Britain, Julius Caesar invaded the island in 55 B.C. and again the following year. The exact locations of his landings have been debated, but recent evidence suggests that one occurred at Ebbsfleet, at the Isle of Thanet in eastern Kent. During construction of a modern road, workers discovered a large ancient ditch measuring around 15 feet wide and six feet deep. Objects found nearby, including Roman weapons, indicated that it was constructed around the middle of the first century B.C., and its size and shape are consistent with Roman defensive networks of that era. Archaeologists believe that Caesar’s army built a temporary fort at the site to protect his fleet of 800 ships. “The wider significance of the discoveries at Ebbsfleet is to refocus attention on the aftermath of Caesar’s invasions,” says University of Leicester archaeologist Andrew Fitzpatrick. “Caesar never intended to stay in Britain,” he adds, “but we theorize that the peace treaty he concluded then paved the way for the eventual invasion and permanent occupation of the Romans in A.D. 43.”

Gods of the Galilee

By JARRETT A. LOBELL

Monday, February 12, 2018

Trenches Israel Galilee Donor Inscription

 

While excavating three Byzantine churches in Galilee, archaeologists from Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee uncovered seven intact mosaic inscriptions that are beginning to fill in the story of small-village life in the fifth century A.D. The inscriptions are in Greek, and by virtue of mistakes in the language, Mordechai Aviam, who directs the project with historian Jacob Ashkenazi, who read the inscriptions, believes that the town and surrounding area was populated during the Roman period by a local Semitic people who were pagans. By the mid-fifth century, they had converted to Christianity. One inscription, one of the longest found to date in western Galilee, gives the names of donors and the names and positions of church officials, including Irenaeus, the bishop of Tyre in 445. “The first importance of these mosaics is that they give us good, dated inscriptions,” Aviam says. They also connect this small, unknown village to the larger Byzantine world.

 

Another mosaic mentions a woman named Sausann (or Shoshana) as a donor to the church’s construction. This inscription, the first in the region to mention a female donor, “tells us that even in the smallest villages in rural Galilee in the Christian period, women supported ecclesiastical structures and that there were women who had strong personal, social, and financial positions,” says Aviam.

 

Trenches Israel Galilee Sausann Mosaic

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