Archaeology News: 2022.07.07

Biblical Archaeological Society News

  • Posted on Tuesday June 14, 2022

    What happened to the Canaanites? DNA sequencing was conducted on five skeletons from Canaanite Sidon, including this one. The results indicate that there is a “genetic continuity” between the Canaanites at Sidon and the modern Lebanese. Photo: Courtesy of Claude Doumet-Serhal. What happened to the Canaanites?  Researchers conducted DNA sequencing on ancient Canaanite skeletons and have determined where the Canaanites’ descendants can be found today. The Canaanites were a Semitic-speaking cultural group that lived in Canaan (comprising Lebanon, southern Syria, Israel and Transjordan) beginning in the second millennium B.C.E. and wielded influence throughout the Mediterranean. In the Hebrew Bible, the Canaanites are described as inhabitants of Canaan before the arrival of the Israelites (e.g., Genesis 15:18–21, Exodus 13:11). Little of the Canaanites’ textual records remain, perhaps because they used papyrus instead of the more durable clay for writing. Much of the Canaanites’ history is reconstructed through the writings of contemporary peoples in addition to archaeological examinations of the material record. Marc Haber, Claude Doumet-Serhal, Christiana Scheib and a team of 13 other scientists recently published their DNA findings in The American Journal of Human Genetics (AJHG). The researchers sequenced the genomes of five individuals who were buried in the Canaanite city of Sidon in Lebanon around 1700 B.C.E. as well as the genomes of 99 individuals from Lebanon today. The results of their study demonstrated a connection: “We show that present-day Lebanese derive most of their ancestry from a Canaanite-related population, which therefore implies substantial genetic continuity in the Levant since at least the Bronze Age,” wrote the researchers in AJHG. FREE eBook: Life in the Ancient World. Craft centers in Jerusalem, family structure across Israel and ancient practices—from dining to makeup—through the Mediterranean world. First Name:* Last Name:* Email Address: * * Indicates a required field. SUBMIT If you don’t want to receive the Bible History Daily newsletter, uncheck this box. A painted limestone figurine of a human-ram deity from Canaanite Sidon appears on the cover of the July/August 2017 issue of BAR. Photo: Courtesy of Claude Doumet-Serhal. In the July/August 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Claude Doumet-Serhal provides a glimpse of Canaanite Sidon in the Middle Bronze Age: At the dawn of the second millennium B.C.E., the site was covered by a thick layer of deliberately cleaned sand between 3 and 4.6 feet deep, brought from the nearby seashore. This “purifying” activity must have taken weeks of hard labor. At this point Sidon became a burial site. To date, 142 burials have been found in this sand and in subsequent layers on top of it dating until around 1500 B.C.E. A funerary feasting tradition took place at the time of burial. High-ranking individuals were buried with objects indicating their power, rank and reputation, such as a Minoan cup (1984–1859 B.C.E.) from Phaistos, Crete, which ... Continue Reading...


  • Posted on Tuesday May 10, 2022

    “For abdominal cramp or bruises,” states Marcus Varro, and I quote his very words, “your hearth should be your medicine chest. Drink lye made from its ashes, and you will be cured. One can see how gladiators after a combat are helped by drinking this.” —Pliny, Natural History XXXVI.203 Detail of a third–fourth-century C.E. mosaic depicting gladiatorial combat, now on display in the Galleria Borghese in Rome. Photo: Licensed under public domain via Wikimedia Commons. The Roman gladiator calls to mind a fierce fighter who, armed with an assortment of weapons, battled other gladiators—and even wild animals. What did gladiators eat? Roman author Pliny the Elder reported that gladiators went by the nickname “hordearii” (“barley-eaters”) and drank a tonic of ashes after combat (Pliny, NH XVIII.72, XXXVI.203). A study recently published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE confirmed that gladiators really did eat mostly plants—especially barley and wheat—and may have indeed consumed ashes. Gladiators were typically enslaved prisoners of war and criminals, though free men as well as women participated in gladiatorial games. What began as a component of funeral rites in the early Roman Republic evolved over centuries into bloody spectacles for the entertainment of the Roman people, reaching their peak in popularity in the second century C.E. Researchers from the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the University of Bern and the Medical University of Vienna aimed to investigate how the diet of gladiators compared to the rest of the population. Using spectroscopy to conduct isotopic analysis on the bone remains from a second–third-century C.E. gladiator cemetery in Roman Ephesus in Turkey, the researchers were able to confirm that the individuals buried in the cemetery consumed a mostly plant-based diet—as did the rest of the population in Ephesus. Become a Member of Biblical Archaeology Society Now and Get More Than Half Off the Regular Price of the All-Access Pass! Explore the world’s most intriguing Biblical scholarship Dig into more than 9,000 articles in the Biblical Archaeology Society’s vast library plus much more with an All-Access pass. Tombstone excavated in the gladiator cemetery at Ephesus. Photo: © 2014 Lösch et al. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0110489.g002. “Gladiators appear to have eaten a diet similar to that of most other occupants of the Roman Empire, and the authors’ isotope data fit well with my own and others’ research into diet in the first few centuries C.E.,” said Kristina Killgrove, bioarchaeologist at the University of West Florida, in an email to Bible History Daily. The study further found that those buried in the gladiator cemetery had higher strontium-calcium ratios than their contemporaries. This suggests that the gladiators at Ephesus may have really drunk a tonic of ashes as described by Pliny (“cinis lixivus potus”). “Plant ashes were evidently consumed to fortify the body after physical exertion and to promote better bone healing,” study leader Fabian Kanz explained to ScienceDaily. “Things were similar then to what we do today—we take magnesium and calcium (in the form of effervescent tablets, for example) following physical exertion.” In an email to Bible History Daily, University of Hawaii at Manoa classicist Daniel Harris-McCoy offers ... Continue Reading...


  • Posted on Saturday March 12, 2022

    HEZEKIAH IN THE BIBLE. The royal seal of Hezekiah, king of Judah, was discovered in the Ophel excavations under the direction of archaeologist Eilat Mazar. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Eilat Mazar; photo by Ouria Tadmor. The royal seal of King Hezekiah in the Bible was found in an archaeological excavation. The stamped clay seal, also known as a bulla, was discovered in the Ophel excavations led by Dr. Eilat Mazar at the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The discovery was announced in a press release by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology, under whose auspices the excavations were conducted. The bulla, which measures just over a centimeter in diameter, bears a seal impression depicting a two-winged sun disk flanked by ankh symbols and containing a Hebrew inscription that reads “Belonging to Hezekiah, (son of) Ahaz, king of Judah.” The bulla was discovered along with 33 other stamped bullae during wet-sifting of dirt from a refuse dump located next to a 10th-century B.C.E. royal building in the Ophel. In the ancient Near East, clay bullae were used to secure the strings tied around rolled-up documents. The bullae were made by pressing a seal onto a wet lump of clay. The stamped bulla served as both a signature and as a means of ensuring the authenticity of the documents. FREE ebook: Ten Top Biblical Archaeology Discoveries. Finds like the Pool of Siloam in Israel, where the Gospel of John says Jesus miraculously restored sight to a blind man. First Name:* Last Name:* Email Address: * * Indicates a required field. SUBMIT If you don’t want to receive the Bible History Daily newsletter, uncheck this box. Who Was King Hezekiah in the Bible? King Hezekiah in the Bible, son and successor of Ahaz and the 13th king of Judah (reigning c. 715–686 B.C.E.), was known for his religious reforms and attempts to gain independence from the Assyrians. The Ophel excavation area at the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Photo: Andrew Shiva. In Aspects of Monotheism: How God Is One (Biblical Archaeology Society, 1997), Biblical scholar P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., summarizes Hezekiah’s religious reforms: According to 2 Chronicles 29–32, Hezekiah began his reform in the first year of his reign; motivated by the belief that the ancient religion was not being practiced scrupulously, he ordered that the Temple of Yahweh be repaired and cleansed of niddâ (impurity). After celebrating a truly national Passover for the first time since the reign of Solomon (2 Chronicles 30:26), Hezekiah’s officials went into the countryside and dismantled the local shrines or “high places” (bamot) along with their altars, “standing stones” (masseboth) and “sacred poles” (’aásûeµrîm). The account of Hezekiah’s reform activities in 2 Kings 18:1–8 is much briefer. Although he ... Continue Reading...


  • Posted on Friday March 11, 2022

    Stolen artifacts recovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority, including bowls, ivories, and coins. Photo by Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority. In early 2022, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) seized a hoard of stolen artifacts including carved ivories from the biblical period, 1,500-year-old magic bowls, and hundreds of other items. The stolen artifacts were discovered in the home of a Jerusalem resident who is thought to have been repairing and illegally selling them on the black market. This event illuminates the growing problem of looting at archaeological sites and the illicit trade in stolen antiquities in Israel and surrounding countries. FREE ebook: Ten Top Biblical Archaeology Discoveries. Finds like the Pool of Siloam in Israel, where the Gospel of John says Jesus miraculously restored sight to a blind man. First Name:* Last Name:* Email Address: * * Indicates a required field. SUBMIT If you don’t want to receive the Bible History Daily newsletter, uncheck this box. Stolen Artifacts: Biblical Ivories Among the stolen artifacts uncovered by the IAA was a cache of carved bone and ivory objects bearing a close resemblance to the famous Samaria Ivories. Ivories served as a symbol of wealth and decadence in the biblical world. According to 1 Kings 10:22, Solomon’s trade ships brought back ivories from long voyages. For the biblical prophets, such ivories were also symbols of greed. The Book of Amos famously lambastes the Northern Kingdom of Israel through reference to its ivory furnishings: “Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches” (Amos 6:4). Carved ivory depicting two griffins and three winged lions. Photo by Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority. The ivories seized by the IAA bear Egyptian motifs, including animals, mythical beasts, and geometric designs. Ivories of this kind would have been decorative items, attached to wooden furniture in the ninth and eighth centuries B.C.E. The IAA has suggested that these items were likely illegally excavated from Samaria, Megiddo, or another of the large biblical mounds of the region. Many similar ivories are on display in the British Museum and the Israel Museum. Stolen Artifacts: Magic Bowls Three incantation bowls with Babylonian-Aramaic writing. Photo by Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority. The IAA also retrieved several magic incantation bowls that date back 1,500 years or more. The bowls were likely made in Mesopotamia between the fourth and eighth centuries C.E., where they were used as a kind of protective amulet. Written inside the bowls were various incantations in Babylonian-Aramaic. The bowls, which were often buried beneath houses, also include depictions of the demons that the vessels were intended to ward off. The IAA did not mention how these bowls ended up in Jerusalem. However, following the start of the Iraq War in 2003, countless ancient artifacts were looted or stolen from collections and then sold ... Continue Reading...


  • Posted on Thursday March 10, 2022

    Archaeologists in Thebes have discovered a burial for victims of the 3rd-century C.E. Cyprian Plague. Photo by N. Cijan © Associazione Culturale per lo Studio dell’Egitto e del Sudan ONLUS. Archaeologists working in Thebes (modern Luxor) in Egypt discovered evidence of a plague that ravaged the Roman Empire in the 3rd century C.E. The so-called Cyprian Plague, likely caused by a form of measles or smallpox, was so devastating that one eyewitness believed the world was coming to an end. During excavations of the Funerary Complex of Harwa and Akhimenru, the Italian Archaeological Mission to Luxor (MAIL), led by Francesco Tiradritti, uncovered charred human remains saturated in lime. The lime, historically used as a disinfectant, was made in three kilns discovered in the complex. A huge bonfire where the victims were burned was also found. The archaeologists used pottery discovered in the kilns to date the burial to the third century C.E. Between about 250 and 271 C.E., a plague—now known as the Cyprian Plague—swept across Egypt and the rest of the Roman Empire, reportedly claiming more than 5,000 victims a day in Rome alone. Publishing their findings in Egyptian Archaeology, the MAIL researchers believe they have uncovered the burial site of the Theban plague victims. “We found evidence of corpses either burned or buried inside the lime. They had to dispose of them without losing any time,” Tiradritti told LiveScience. FREE eBook: Life in the Ancient World. Craft centers in Jerusalem, family structure across Israel and ancient practices—from dining to makeup—through the Mediterranean world. First Name:* Last Name:* Email Address: * * Indicates a required field. SUBMIT If you don’t want to receive the Bible History Daily newsletter, uncheck this box. The modern name for the third-century plague is derived from early Christian writer St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage (modern Tunisia), who vividly described the pandemic in a series of accounts. St. Cyprian believed that the pestilence signaled the end of the world: “The kingdom of God, beloved brethren, is beginning to be at hand,” he wrote. The disposal of the Theban plague victims was conducted in a funerary complex originally built in the seventh century B.C.E. for a steward named Harwa. Harwa’s successor Akhimenru built his own tomb there, and thereafter Egyptians continued to use the complex for burials. The funerary complex was, however, abandoned after the burial of the Cyprian Plague victims. Read more about the discovery of the Cyprian Plague remains in Luxor in LiveScience. This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on June 19, 2014. Related reading in Bible History Daily: Justinian Plague Linked to the Black Death Medicine in the Ancient World Epilepsy, Tutankhamun and Monotheism Heart Disease in Mummies 4,200-Year-Old Egyptian Skeleton Shows Earliest Evidence of Breast Cancer   The post The Cyprian Plague appeared first on Biblical Archaeology Society. Continue Reading...

News from the American Journal of Archaeology

Roman Archaeology Blog

  • Posted on Wednesday May 11, 2022

    The Ancient Roman equivalent of a roadside service station has been unearthed in Hertfordshire, along with a hoard of artefacts showing it was once a thriving commercial centre.The 'once in a lifetime discovery' was made on the site of a planned football pitch at Grange Paddocks leisure centre in Bishop's Stortford.Like a modern motorway service station, the site comprised several units and would have had everything the weary ancient traveller needed.This may have included an inn providing refreshments, a blacksmith, and a temple to cater for travellers' religious needs, according to archaeologists.'It's quite like a services,' said project manager Andrew Greef, from Oxford Archaeology, which has been excavating the site.Read the rest of this article... Continue Reading...


  • Posted on Wednesday May 11, 2022

    Inventores custodes (or ‘finders keepers’ if you were not the Roman who lost their brothel tokens a few centuries ago). Human bones, animal teeth, credit at ancient knocking shops... these are just some of the items that have been recovered from London’s 30-million-year-old river, If you are keen to discover more about what lurks beneath the surface of the Thames then the team at Barratt London have just released a study into what marine life resides in the river, which is England's longest, as well as the strangest items that have been recovered over the years, plus our littering habits and it makes for an eyebrow-raising read.Read the rest of this article... Continue Reading...


  • Posted on Wednesday May 04, 2022

    The discoveries initially caused "dismay, embarrassment, and curiosity, and were seen by some as a great opportunity to think about the relationship with their bodies and nudity in a very different way" Andreas SOLARO AFP/FileRaunchy scenes may redden faces at a new exhibition in Pompeii on art and sexuality in the ancient Roman city, where sculptures and paintings of breasts and buttocks abound.Archaeologists excavating the city, which was destroyed by the eruption of nearby Vesuvius in 79 AD, were initially startled to discover erotic images everywhere, from garden statues to ceiling frescos.Since those first digs in the 18th-century site, racy images have been found in taverns, thermal baths and private homes, from huge erect penises to a statue with both male and female physical attributes.It became clear that "this is a city where sensuality, eroticism, are ever-present," Pompeii's site director Gabriel Zuchtriegel told AFP as he stood in front of statues of bare-chested Centaurs.The discoveries initially caused "dismay, embarrassment, and curiosity, and were seen by some as a great opportunity to think about the relationship with their bodies and nudity in a very different way".The Neapolitan King Charles VII, who financed the excavations, shut some of the more bawdy finds away in a secret cabinet in Naples, only showing them to those of proven moral standing, Zuchtriegel said.That secret cabinet still exists today in the archaeological museum in the southern Italian city.Read the rest of this article... Continue Reading...


  • Posted on Wednesday May 04, 2022

    Excavations taking place on Via Luigi Tosti in Rome.(photo credit: FABIO CARICCHIA/ITALIAN MINISTRY OF CULTURE)A 2nd-century funerary altar marking the remains of a 13-year-old girl was discovered in Rome on Tuesday.Rome is home to countless archeological sites, some of which are now tourist attractions such as the Colosseum or San Clemente. Others, like this columbarium, are still being excavated. Archeologists found the altar approximately two meters below the current street level on Via Luigi Tosti in south-central Rome. The discovery is part of a wider excavation of the necropolis of Via Latina, a nearby street. The white marble altar is very well-preserved, and its inscription is clearly legible. It reads: Valeria Laeta, daughter of P[ublio] lived 13 years and 7 months.  Some fragments of a white marble sarcophagus were also found with a bas-relief decoration depicting a lioness and a hunter on horseback. Read the rest of this article... Continue Reading...


  • Posted on Wednesday May 04, 2022

    A trio of metal detectorists who discovered more than 150 Roman coins after mistaking them for tent pegs could be set to make some £40,000 from the haul.The band of friends were camping near the ancient village of Pewsey in Wiltshire when they dug up the buried treasure just 6ft from where they pitched their tent.  Robert Abbot, 53, thought he had found a handful of old metal pegs which had activated his metal detector, but hidden just below was a valuable silver Roman Siliqua coin. His detector went into a frenzy and with the help of friends, Dave Allen, 59, a carpenter and Mick Rae, 63, a dairy herd manager, they frantically dug up dozens of the ancient Roman coins.By the end of their weekend camping trip they had uncovered 161 silver coins, all around 1,600 years old, which they carried home in their washing up bowl.Read the rest of this article... Continue Reading...

Archaeology and Egyptology in the 21st century

  • Posted on Wednesday June 29, 2022

    In my previous post, I reviewed the Wunderkammer exhibition at Southend Museum. This exhibition includes a number of interesting Egyptian artefacts in the Southend Museum collection, which I felt merited their own post. For those visiting the exhibition, the Egyptian artefacts are displayed on glass shelves in a case in the rear right corner of the exhibition room. Overview of some of the Egyptian artefacts in the Wunderkammer exhibition. (Author photograph) Charles Nicholson I c. 1850, who probably collected the Egyptian artefacts in the Southend Museum. (Painter unknown, photographer Toby Hudson via Wikimedia Commons.) Provenance According to the information in the exhibition and a post on the Southend Museum blog, the Egyptian artefacts were acquired by the Museum in the early 20th-century from Porter’s Civic House, a 15th-century manor house and official mayoral residence of the City of Southend. They probably originated in the collection of Sir Charles Nicholson, who undertook a Grand Tour of Italy, Greece, and Egypt in 1857-8. Nicholson donated over 1000 objects to the University of Sydney, where they were curated in the Nicholson Museum before being transferred to the Chau Chak Wing Museum in 2020. In 1862 Nicholson left Australia, marrying Sarah Elizabeth Keightley in 1865. His eldest son was born in 1867 in Hadleigh, just west of Southend, and was also christened Charles. Charles Nicholson II became a celebrated architect and in 1916 he purchased Porter’s Manor House in Southend, to save it from demolition, later selling it to the town. The Egyptian artefacts came to the Museum from Porter’s Manor following the sale. It is most likely that the Egyptian artefacts are remnants of the collection of Charles Nicholson I, although it is also possible that they were collected by Charles Nicholson II, who travelled widely at a time when Egypt had become a popular tourist destination for people of his class. Either way, these objects were collected during the 19th or early 20th century. Two shabtis from the Southend Museum collection. (Author photograph from the Wunderkammer Exhibition) Eclectic objects The Egyptian artefacts on display in the Wunderkammer exhibition are an eclectic group. Some of them are typical of the small antiquities that were widely collected; an alabaster cosmetic jar, small items of jewellery, a human-headed Canopic jar stopper and blue-faience shabtis. A faience semi-circle with a hieroglyphic inscription may be half the lid of a faience jar or a faience plaque. The signage is largely accurate, although I was sorry there were no museum numbers. The shabtis are correctly identified in the signage, but they are incorrectly described as surrogate bodies for the soul to use if the mummy was destroyed. Although shabtis might have functioned as such, this would have been a secondary purpose. The most important role of the shabti was as a ‘servant’ for the tomb owner, who would undertake any unpleasant duties required of him in the afterlife. Half jar lid or faience plaque in the Southend Collection (Author photograph at the Wunderkammer exhibition) Signage  The overarching theme of the signage and artefact descriptions is the impact ... Continue Reading...


  • Posted on Wednesday May 25, 2022

    On 2 October 2021, the ‘Wunderkammer‘ exhibition opened at Southend Museum. It examines early modern Cabinets of Curiosities (‘Wunderkammer’ in German) and shows how these private collections evolved into the modern museum. In addition to the thought-provoking and sometimes uncomfortable history of collecting, museums and museology, it offers an opportunity to see rarely seen Egyptian artefacts in the Southend collection, paintings of Nubia, and several fascinating objects such as a Neo-Assyrian chariot and an Ophicleide. Neo-Assyrian stone toy chariot in the Southend Museum collection. The charioteer is in the British Museum according to Southend Museum’s documentation. (Author photograph at the Wunderkammer exhibition) The Wunderkammer exhibition is housed in a large room at the rear of the Central Museum, on Victoria Avenue. It is conveniently located right next to Southend Victoria Railway Station, and about a 10-minute walk up Southend High Street from Southend Central Railway Station. The museum is open 11-5 Wednesday to Sunday and the exhibition runs until 3 October 2022. Both are free to enter. After entering the Museum lobby and following the signs to the exhibition, you follow a clockwise path around the exhibition room on a broadly chronological journey. Recordings by relevant individuals or actors portraying them are cleverly located beneath parasols so as to only be audible from a specific point in the exhibition, marked by a pair of white footprints on the floor. An audiovisual display allows you to sit and review the objects projected on a blank wall and there are also activities for children, including a ‘create your own Wunderkammer’ task to tell your own story about the exhibition. Ophicleide, a predecessor of the tuba, once owned by Sam Hughes, one of the greatest players of the instrument. (Author photograph at the Wunderkammer Exhibition) Origins of the museum The first part of the exhibition covers Wunderkammer, their Medieval origins, early-modern development and renaissance in the Victorian era. We are led from the treasuries of Medieval castles to the studios of 15-16th century Italy and the Wunderkammer of Germany, meeting significant early collectors like Isabelle D’Este. From the first museum catalogue of Ole Worm in mid-15th century Denmark to the beginnings of object classification and early treatises on museology, the early modern Cabinets of Curiosities were foundational to the development of museums. The Museum of Ole Worm, from the frontispiece of the Musei Wormianum catalogue made by G. Wigendorp 1655. (Author photograph at the Wunderkammer exhibition). ‘One of Everything’ Haida Argillite flute carving, by unknown Haida maker, Haid Gwaii, 19th century Canada. The signage indicates that objects like this were often made to please colonisers’ tastes in styles and types otherwise unused by the Indigenous makers (Author photograph from the Wunderkammer Exhibition) In one episode of “Dinopaws” (one of my daughter’s favourite shows) talkative young dinosaur Gwen develops a passion for collecting, before discovering that some things don’t want to be collected. The same desire to ‘collect one of everything’ as Gwen puts it, lay behind the earliest ‘Cabinets of Curiosities’ or ‘Rooms of Wonder’ that give the ... Continue Reading...


  • Posted on Wednesday April 27, 2022

    In my two previous posts, I discussed the effect of visiting archaeological tourist attractions on me and upon the public perception of archaeology. Despite the hard work of curators, managers and excavators, archaeological tourist attractions and publicly accessible sites can feel somewhat sterile to the archaeologist and generate misconceptions about archaeology amongst other visitors. These misconceptions lie at the root of most of the myths about archaeology in the public consciousness. I believe that better communication by archaeologists about archaeological practice and increasing the numbers of people who are able to take part in archaeological activities can help in correcting these misconceptions and laying to rest various myths about archaeology and archaeologists. Correcting these misconceptions and laying these myths to rest certainly has important implications for the reception of archaeology, but it can also influence public policy in positive ways. The Prittlewell Princely burial offers a curious example of how misconceptions about archaeology and the myths they generate can have a negative effect upon public discourse and policy more widely. Public policy and the Prittlewell Princely burial Location of the Pirttlewell Princely burial. (Map by Openstreetmap contributors from Wikimedia Commons on a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license). The Prittlewell Prince was discovered in 2003 during excavations in advance of a road-widening scheme on the A127/A1159. The burial site was crammed on an oval of undeveloped land between the cutting of the Southend to Liverpool Street railway line to the east, the A127/A1159 main road to the west and south, and further development to the north. The planned road-widening scheme would have extended the A127/A1159 into a dual carriageway, necessitating building over the oval of land where the burial was found. The discovery of the Princely burial proved a focal point for anti-road protestors, who moved into a temporary camp (Camp Bling) on the site. Local residents resoundingly rejected the road-widening proposal during a subsequent consultation. After much debate, the council reduced the scope, and later shelved the scheme. The A127/A1159 remains unaltered to this day. Protecting the Prince Much of the local opposition to the road-widening proposal was rooted in a desire to protect the Princely burial. The threat to the Princely burial was emphasised by media coverage. In July 2005, The Guardian asked ‘is it worth destroying the burial ground of an East Saxon king?’ After the Council reduced the scope of the scheme in 2009, BBC News noted that the new plans would ‘leave the eighth-century burial site . . . unaffected’. Archaeologically speaking, the BBC’s statement is so ridiculous as to be laughable. At the time these headlines were written, the ‘eight-century burial’ had already been affected by the road-widening scheme. Thanks to the road-widening proposal the Princely burial had been discovered, excavated and removed in 2003. By the time the BBC trumpeted that the burial would be unaffected, it had already been destroyed; meticulously, with the greatest care and most careful recoding methods offered by modern archaeological techniques. Any concerned citizens of Southend who voted against the road-widening to protect a Princely ... Continue Reading...


  • Posted on Wednesday March 30, 2022

    In my previous post, I described how visiting publicly accessible archaeological sites as a professional archaeologist can be a somewhat sterile and occasionally soulless experience because the vibrant ‘living’ deposits archaeologists work with every day have, by necessity, either been removed or covered up to protect them. That this affected me viscerally despite my professional archaeologist’s training, reveals how experience can trump intellectual knowledge. It forced me to reevaluate how the nature of archaeology constrains the visitor experience. Although site presentation boards, museums and guidebooks make much effort to explain the archaeological process and the missing phases, the deposits which comprise the bulk of the archaeological record are not visible as part of the physical site experience. If this was true for me, a trained and experienced archaeologist, how might it affect the experience of another visitor? What misconceptions might be fostered despite the best efforts of curators and site managers? I strongly suspect that these misconceptions, fostered by the experience of visiting archaeological sites, are at the heart of several common myths about archaeology and archaeological excavation. A lifted and relaid monochrome mosaic in the Barcelona History Museum. (Author Photograph) The missing matrix For the most part, members of the public do not see the various layers, fills and deposits that make up most of the archaeological record. The many sites without structures are almost never conserved for long-term display, are rarely publicly accessible during excavation, and if they are publicised in the press, are represented by plans, reconstructions and digital models. At archaeological tourist attractions, the public see in situ archaeological structures after conservation. The archaeological deposits surrounding those structures have already been removed (and recorded), the archaeological deposits beneath those structures have either been removed or are preserved in situ and invisible beneath the floors and walls of the conserved structures. Either way, many of the archaeological deposits that comprised the original ‘site’ are invisible to the public. Conserved Roman fresco, remounted with modern additions showing how the surviving pieces formed part of the whole image. Barcelona History Museum. (Author photograph) Any visit to an archaeological tourist attraction follows roughly the same pattern. After obtaining entry you follow a designated (modern) path through carefully laid out archaeological structures. These structures will be original but have likely undergone conservation. Walls may be consolidated, floors lifted and relaid on conservation substrate. Wall paintings, frescoes and plasterwork will also have been consolidated. There may be kilns, hearths, fireplaces and in situ artefacts, such as amphorae. If you are very lucky and the site is covered, there may be exposed archaeological soil deposits around the structures, but your eyes are unlikely to be drawn to what amounts to dried earth. The display and presentation boards, guidebooks and, museum contain information intended to dispel this misconception. They usually include information about the archaeological process, details of removed or invisible phases, and the archaeological and stratigraphic history of the site. But even if these sources of information are read and understood, they are unintentionally contradicted by the ... Continue Reading...


  • Posted on Wednesday January 26, 2022

    Like many other archaeologists, I visit publicly accessible sites whenever the opportunity arises, but some five or six years after I attended my first excavation I had an unnerving experience. I was visiting Vindolanda, a fort on Hadrian’s wall in Northumberland, made famous by the discovery of a series of Roman letters, written on wooden tablets, and preserved in a waterlogged ditch. I had visited the site as a child and now returned as an adult archaeologist to see the new discoveries. Although the exhibition of the waterlogged finds in the museum was fascinating, I was shocked when I walked around the fort. Although the site remained as well-presented as ever, I found it dead and soulless. As I child I had loved exploring the excavated fort structures, as an adult, I felt only emptiness!  Headquarters building (Principia) at Vindolanda Roman Fort as laid out for public display (Photograph Phil Champion  CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons) Over time I have become used to experiencing varying degrees of this feeling when visiting publicly accessible sites. I have also begun to understand why these sites feel so desolate to me. It’s not due to any lack or failure on the part of the site management teams, who shouldn’t be criticised for their often exemplary conservation and display of cultural heritage assets. Rather it reflects the transient nature of archaeology and the destructive realities of excavation. By necessity, the public presentation of sites often excludes the very deposits which comprise the bulk of the archaeological record, rendering them sterile to archaeological eyes. Into the matrix In order to explain why publicly accessible sites can feel so ‘dead’ to an archaeologist, we need to recognise the importance of the archaeological matrix. The matrix is archaeological jargon for the earth that was excavated from around the structures you see on display at sites like Vindolanda. Before excavation, the spaces within and between the structures (walls, staircases, wells, drains, floors, silos and kilns) were filled with soil deposits of different colours and textures (see below, the image of Plaosnik Monastery under excavation). These deposits are removed during excavation, but as they represent events during the history of the site, each deposit must be carefully recorded, with appropriate samples taken as necessary. There are various different methods of excavation, but whichever is used, the aim is to identify, obtain and record as much information about that deposit (or context in the archaeological jargon) as possible. Each context is recorded visually (with measured plans and sections, sketch drawings and photographs) and verbally (on a context record form). These records include any artefacts or samples taken from the deposit and there is additional documentation for special features, such as walls and burials. The records are all cross-referenced by unique identification numbers for the site, context, drawings, photographs, samples and finds, so that they can be associated with each other during post-excavation analysis and by any future researcher working with the site archive. To the archaeologist then, a site includes a large ... Continue Reading...