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From the Trenches

Jetting Across the British Isles

By JASON URBANUS

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Trenches England Jet Beads NecklaceQueen Victoria is known for wearing only black clothing during a mourning period for her beloved Albert that endured for no less than 40 years. She even went so far as to favor black jewelry made from jet, a gemstone that is composed of fossilized wood from a type of Jurassic-period British coniferous tree. But the queen was not the first Briton to wear jet jewelry. Archaeologists recently unearthed a jet necklace dating to sometime between 2200 and 1900 B.C. in a tomb under an earthen mound near the village of Kirk Michael on the Isle of Man.

 

The crescent-shaped necklace consists of 122 decorated beads between 0.4 and 2 inches long. These jet gemstones came from Yorkshire, in northern England, suggesting that communities on the Isle of Man were connected to far-flung trade and exchange networks 4,000 years ago. “Whether or not the person who wore the beads lived on the Isle of Man for their whole life, left and returned, or was born elsewhere,” says project codirector and Newcastle University archaeologist Chris Fowler, “the beads can be taken as an indication that this was a person of some importance because of the rarity of the material and its exotic nature.”

Rise of the Greek Crane

By JASON URBANUS

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Trenches Greece Corinth TempleAncient Greece is renowned for its extraordinary stone temples. Structures such as the Parthenon were only made possible by the invention of the crane, which is considered to be one the Greeks’ greatest technological innovations. The device allowed heavy blocks to be lifted and set into place using relatively few men. “Lifting methods previously employed by the Greeks, as well as by other ancient cultures, required large ramps and scaffolds of earth or mudbrick,” says University of Notre Dame architectural historian Alessandro Pierattini. “Building and dismantling such massive earthworks required a large workforce.”

 

Trenches Greece RopesIt has long been thought that the crane was developed toward the end of the sixth century B.C. However, Pierattini suggests that the Greeks experimented with crane technology at least a century earlier. By reexamining ashlar blocks from the Temples of Apollo at Corinth and Poseidon at Isthmia—the oldest-known Greek temples built from stone—he determined that grooves cut into the bottom and sides of these blocks were used to secure ropes attached to a primitive lifting device. Levers could also be inserted into the blocks, which weighed as much as 850 pounds, helping to maneuver them into their final position.

Æthelburga's Local Church

By JASON URBANUS

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Trenches England Aethelburga ChurchExcavations near an eleventh-century church in Lyminge, Kent, have exposed the foundations of an ancient predecessor. The Anglo-Saxon building dates to the mid-seventh century, just a few decades after Christianity, which had largely disappeared from Britain following the departure of the Romans in the early fifth century, was reintroduced by St. Augustine of Canterbury. One of the oldest stone churches in England, the seventh-century building was partially unearthed and then reburied in the nineteenth century, but a new project led by Gabor Thomas of the University of Reading is reinvestigating and documenting the site using modern archaeological methods. “Only a handful of stone churches dating from the earliest phase of English Christianity survive to the present day,” says Thomas. “Very few opportunities have arisen to explore these sites archaeologically.”

 

The church is thought to have been foundedby Æthelburga, princess of Kent and queen of Northumbria, whose empty tomb may have been identified in a small annex attached to the building’s exterior. Additional work nearby has uncovered traces of the monastic community that developed around the church.

Down by the River

By DANIEL WEISS

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Trenches England PlatformAn 8,000-year-old wooden platform has been discovered on the seabed off the Isle of Wight. The platform, which has been excavated by researchers from the Maritime Archaeology Trust (MAT) and taken to a laboratory for study, lay under more than 30 feet of water. At the time it was built, however, sea levels were much lower, and the area was heavily wooded and abutted a waterway. The newly identified structure, which measures about seven feet by three feet and may have originally been substantially larger, consists of layers of split wood resting on a perpendicular log foundation. It was identified by divers after it eroded out of the seabed. Building the platform would have required woodworking skills that were not thought to have been developed in this region until several thousand years later. “This is the most cohesive, most intact Mesolithic structure to have been excavated in the United Kingdom,” says Garry Momber, MAT’s director. The platform was situated near a boatbuilding site, where the wood scraps used to construct it would have been found.

Egypt's Temple Town

By BENJAMIN LEONARD

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Trenches Egypt Heracleion Temple ArtifactsBefore the rise of Alexandria in the fourth century B.C., the ancient port city of Thonis-Heracleion at the mouth of the Nile was the gateway to Egypt for foreign traders. The city and a suburb, Canopus, also served as a center of Egyptian religious life before a series of natural disasters submerged them by the eighth century A.D.

 

Recent excavations in a channel south of Thonis-Heracleion’s main temple to the god Amun-Gereb have uncovered debris from its destruction around 140 B.C. Wedged among the building’s blocks and columns were hundreds of mostly intact ritual artifacts, ceramics, and bronze coins from the reign of Ptolemy II (r. 285–246 B.C.). Across from the temple’s entrance, archaeologists discovered Doric columns belonging to a circular Greek temple. Thonis-Heracleion’s surfeit of sanctuaries, including temples dedicated to Hercules and Osiris, was a result of official favor bestowed on it for its economic significance. “The city was of prime importance to the pharaonic dynasties, which relied on it for taxes and customs duties,” says Franck Goddio of the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology. 

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