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Digs & Discoveries

Polychrome Patchwork

By BENJAMIN LEONARD

Friday, April 10, 2020

Digs Turkey Hittite MosaicjpegAn Italian-Turkish team has unearthed the world’s oldest-known polychrome mosaic floor at Usakli Hoyuk, a Hittite settlement in central Turkey. The partially preserved mosaic measures 23 feet by 10 feet and once adorned an open courtyard belonging to a building that archaeologists believe was a second-millennium B.C. temple. The mosaic, which was set into a beaten-earth surface, consists of more than 3,000 multicolored stones arranged in rectangular frames, each with three rows of alternating white, red, and blue-black triangles. Stone pavements served a practical function in Hittite architecture. “It’s the way Hittites built their houses and public buildings, probably as a solution to prevent problems connected with rain,” says archaeologist Anacleto D’Agostino of the University of Pisa. D’Agostino adds that these colored geometric patterns have not been found at other Hittite sites, and are thought to indicate the courtyard’s association with performance of some kind of ritual.

At Press Time

By MARLEY BROWN

Friday, April 10, 2020

Digs Japan Sake PressjpegDigs Japan Sake BreweryjpegThe oldest known remains of a sake brewery in Japan have been unearthed by archaeologists in Kyoto. Discovered ahead of construction on the former grounds of the Zen Buddhist Tenryuji Temple in the city’s Saga district, the brewery is believed to have been in use during the period leading up to the Onin War (ca. 1467–1477), a power struggle between the ruling Muromachi Shogunate and an alliance of rebellious feudal lords that ravaged Kyoto. The brewery remains include a cellar, storage jars, and a heavy wooden press, in which cloth bags holding unrefined sake were squeezed to produce the finished product. “The facility is estimated to be approximately three hundred years older than one built in 1674 in Itami City, which was considered the oldest until now,” says site director Masato Murao of the cultural heritage excavation and research firm Kokusai Bunkazai Co. Ltd. According to Murao, 17 sake breweries operating in the Saga district were recorded in 1425. He adds it is likely that monks and other members of the Tenryuji Temple made significant—and untaxed—profits brewing sake at the time. 

If These Walls Could Talk

By MARLEY BROWN

Friday, April 10, 2020

Digs Belgium Bone WalljpegNine walls made up entirely of human bones have been uncovered by archaeologists at the site of the former Church of Saint John, now Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, in Ghent, Belgium. Most of the remains have been radiocarbon dated to the second half of the fifteenth century, but the bones were likely not used for construction projects until sometime in the seventeenth or eighteenth century, when a section of the church cemetery was cleared to make room for new burials. “We have more than a thousand skeletons in all from in and around the church site,” says project leader Janiek De Gryse of Ruben Willaert Restoration & Archeology/Decoration, “but these walls tell us something about the practice of clearing churchyards.” She adds that future researchers will investigate whether the layering of bones was undertaken purely due to space limitations, or whether the walls may have held religious or spiritual significance.

Warrior Stone

By BENJAMIN LEONARD

Friday, April 10, 2020

Digs Scotland Tulloch CompositejpegA six-foot-tall monolith called the Tulloch Stone offers new evidence of the beliefs of the elusive Picts of ancient Britain, who resisted the Romans and later formed powerful independent Scottish kingdoms. Discovered by construction workers during a road project in central Scotland, the stone features a carving thought to date to the fifth or sixth century A.D. of a possibly unclothed man carrying a spear with a doorknob-shaped end. Similar figures, each holding an identical spear, are carved on two other Pictish stones that were found in cemeteries in Scotland dating to roughly the same period. Archaeologist Gordon Noble of the University of Aberdeen says that, rather than representing deceased individuals, all three carvings probably depict a pagan warrior god. “By the post-Roman period, this was very much a warrior-oriented society,” Noble says. “These images seem to represent a distinctive regional manifestation of a warrior ideology.”

The Cursing Well

By BENJAMIN LEONARD

Friday, April 10, 2020

Digs Greece Curse WellThirty lead tablets recovered from the bottom of a public well at the edge of the Kerameikos necropolis in Athens have been found to record curses cast by Athenians against their rivals some 2,300 years ago. Several of the tablets were folded and pierced with nails, while others were fashioned in the shape of livers or coffins. A particularly scathing malediction condemns an allegedly promiscuous newlywed named Glykera and her vulva.

 

Until the late fourth century B.C., such Athenian curse tablets were usually deposited in tombs. At that point, according to the first-century B.C. Roman author and orator Cicero, the statesman Demetrius of Phaleron instituted a new law restricting elaborate burials and funeral practices. To evade detection by the officers employed to enforce this law, crafty sorcerers seem to have turned to wells as a more secretive venue for their magic rituals. The Greeks believed that water, and in particular groundwater, was a conduit to the streams of the underworld, explains archaeologist Jutta Stroszeck of the German Archaeological Institute in Athens. “Water nymphs protected the water,” she says, “and were thus thought to be capable of directing the curses to the gods of the underworld.”

 

TRANSLATION OF THE GLYKERA CURSE TABLET:

We curse Glykera the wife of Dion, to the gods of the underworld, so she be punished and her wedding be unfulfilled. I bind down Glykera, the wife of Dion, to Hermes Eriounios of the underworld, her vulva, her debauchery, her vice and everything of the sinful Glykera

 

 

Digs Greece Cursing Tablets

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