Archaeologists in Egypt have announced the discovery of three underwater shipwrecks that date from the Roman Era in Abu Qir Bay, Alexandria.
The three wrecks were uncovered during a research project in collaboration between the European Institute of Underwater Archaeology and the Supreme Council of Antiquities.
In a press statement, Dr. Mostafa Waziri added that the project also uncovered a Roman head carved in crystal that may belong to the commander of the Roman armies of “Antonio”, in addition to three gold coins dating back to the Emperor “Octavius”.
Dr. Osama Alnahas – Head of the Central Department of the Underwater Antiquities said that the initial excavations have also indicated that a fourth shipwreck remains to be unearthed, as the project discovered Large wooden planks, as well as archaeological remains of pottery vessels that may represent the ships hull and cargo.
Dr. Ayman Ashmawy, Head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Sector said that the archaeological mission began its excavations last September.
Underwater research by both projects have included a survey of the soil in both the eastern port and the Abu Qir Bay, underwater excavations at the Heraklion sunken city in Abu Qir Bay which includes the discovery of a votive bark of the god Osiris,as well as the completion of the conservation and documentation works.
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Deep in a swamp in the Russian republic of Tuva, SNSF-funded archaeologist Gino Caspari has discovered an undisturbed Scythian burial mound.
All the evidence suggests that this is not only the largest Scythian princely tomb in South Siberia, but also the earliest .
Gino Caspari made the most significant find in his career to date not with a shovel, but at a computer. A recipient of Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) funding, archaeologist Caspari discovered a circular structure on high-resolution satellite images of the Uyuk River valley (Siberia) on his computer screen. An initial trial dig carried out this summer by the Bern University scientist together with the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Hermitage Museum confirmed his suspicion: the structure is a kurgan, a Scythian princely tomb.
Looking back at the beginnings
Working with a Swiss-Russian team, Caspari was able to prove that the burial mound – referred to as Tunnug 1 (or Arzhan 0) – was similar in construction to the kurgan Arzhan 1 located only ten kilometres away to the northeast. Arzhan 1 had long been regarded as the earliest Scythian princely tomb in the region, which is also known as the “Siberian Valley of Kings” owing to the numerous kurgans found there. The earliest princely tombs consist of a stone packing with a circular arrangement of chambers. The walls of the chambers are made of larch logs. Scythian burial objects typically include weapons, horse’s harnesses and objects decorated in the so-called animal style.
Wooden beams found by Caspari during the test excavation date back to the 9th century BC, predating Arzhan 1, which was built at the turn of the 9th to the 8th century BC and excavated in the 1970s. “We have a great opportunity here,” says a delighted Caspari, commenting on the results of the trial dig published in the current issue of Archaeological Research in Asia (*).
“Archaeological methods have become considerably more sophisticated since the 1970s. Today we have completely different ways of examining material to find out more about the transition from the Late Bronze Age to the Iron Age,” remarks the SNSF-funded researcher. He also stresses that the way we look at prehistoric times is changing radically thanks to genetics, isotope analysis and geophysical methods as well as developments in geographic information systems and remote sensing.
Protective armour of ice
The Arzhan 0 burial mound is in an inaccessible location amid swampy terrain, which also makes it harder for grave robbers to reach. “The kurgan is five arduous hours by off-road vehicle from the nearest settlement,” Caspari points out. As it may never have been disturbed, it could contain similar treasures to Arzhan 2. Between 2001 and 2004, a German team of archaeologists discovered an undisturbed burial chamber in Arzhan 2 containing the richest collection of burial artefacts ever found in the Eurasian steppe. Over a thousand gold objects had been placed with the two corpses in the tomb’s main chamber, in addition to magnificently adorned weapons, pots and horses with exquisite harnesses. Made of solid gold, the necklace of the Scythian prince from Arzhan 2 weighs 2 kilos alone. But the date of the burial is put at the 7th century BC, i.e. well into the Iron Age.
The climatic characteristics of the Siberian soil add to Caspari’s hopes. In the Uyuk Valley, the permafrost layer largely begins just a few metres below the surface. Everything above that thaws in summer, and organic material rots. However, beneath the thick stone packing of the kurgans, the rays of sunlight are unable to thaw out the soil.
“Very rarely ice lenses form directly beneath the kurgans,” explains Caspari. The ice prevents the decay of organic matter and preserves sensitive material. Caspari is expecting further finds to be unearthed in the course of the project: “If we’re lucky, we might even find some well-preserved wood carvings or carpets under the stones, or perhaps an ice mummy.”
A Roman temple uncovered in a Hampshire farmyard by University of Reading archaeologists may be the first building of its kind in Britain to be dated back to the reign of Emperor Nero.
The temple remains were found within the grounds of The Old Manor House in the Roman town at Silchester, along with rare tiles stamped with the name of the emperor, who ruled AD54-68.
The temple joined two others to make a group of three when it was investigated in Silchester in autumn 2017, and is the first to be identified in the town for more than 100 years. The three temples are located in a walled sanctuary, numbered Insula XXX by Victorian archaeologists. It would have been a striking gateway to the city for travellers from London.
Four fragments of tiles stamped in Nero’s name were found in a ritual pit within the temple site – the largest concentration ever found in the town – along with another three at the kiln site which made the tiles in nearby Little London. These provide further evidence that the temples could all have been part of a Nero-sponsored building project in Silchester.
Professor Mike Fulford at the University of Reading, who is leading the Silchester archaeology team, said: “These findings are a crucial piece of the jigsaw as we look to solve the mystery of Nero’s links to Silchester. This is something that has puzzled archaeologists for more than a century.
“Only a handful of Nero-stamped tiles have ever been found in the UK, so to unearth this many was very exciting. It adds to the evidence that Nero saw Silchester as a pet project where he could construct extravagant buildings like those seen in Rome, to inspire awe among his subjects in the UK.”
The three temples are the earliest known masonry constructions in Silchester, the city of Calleva in Roman times. They would therefore have been the most prominent buildings in the city, being erected decades before others, like the great complex of the forum basilica in the centre of the town, were rebuilt in masonry. They were aligned north to south at the eastern end of the Roman town.
The remains of the first two temples on the Insula XXX site were first found during grave-digging in St Mary’s churchyard in 1890, with evidence of the third building unearthed in 1902. However, its identity as another temple was overlooked until now.
Ground-penetrating radar, and a follow-up excavation this autumn, have confirmed three temples once stood on the site. They had a typical ‘double-square’ plan – a central cella (shrine) surrounded by a walkway. This design originated in the late Iron Age, and is rare in Britain but more common in France and Germany.
The foundations suggest the temples could have been up to 15m high. The dimensions of the third temple, 15m by 17.5m, are similar to those of the southernmost Insula XXX temple but smaller than the central one, which still remains the largest known of its type in Roman Britain.
Although the religious purpose of the temples remains a mystery, evidence uncovered at the latest temple site suggests it was built in the 50s or 60s of the first century AD – within Nero’s short reign. Similarities in the layout within the three temples suggest all three were conceived and built at a similar time, although further excavations by the team will test this theory.
Nero’s reign is associated with brutality and extravagance. He was known for the persecution of Christians as well as his grand building plans, some of which were constructed after Rome’s great fire, before his suicide. Nero’s buildings were made in high-quality stone, as well as ceramic brick and tile, but only the tiles found at Silchester are stamped in his name.
The existence of one of his buildings in Roman Britain, as well as evidence he might have visited, has always remained elusive. However, the find of the seven tiles, adding to only 14 previously found in the UK, only at Silchester and Little London, validates the theory that Nero was keen to sponsor a building project in Silchester.
Another Nero tile found close to the public baths in Insula XXXIIIA in the south-east of the Roman town suggests the baths were built early in the town’s development. Excavation to test this will take place in the summer of 2018.
When renowned University of Toronto (U of T) geophysicist J. Tuzo Wilson cemented concepts in the emerging field of plate tectonics in the 1960s, he revolutionized the study of Earth’s physical characteristics and behaviours.
Decades later, successor researchers at U of T and Istanbul Technical University have determined that a series of volcanoes and a mountain plateau across central Turkey formed not solely by the collision of tectonic plates, but instead by a massive drip and then detachment of the lower tectonic plate beneath Earth’s surface.
The researchers propose that the reason the Central Anatolian (Turkish) Plateau has risen by as much as one kilometre over the past 10 million years is because the planet’s crust and upper mantle – the lithosphere – has thickened and dripped below the region. As the lithosphere sank into the lower mantle, it first formed a basin at the surface, which later sprang up when the weight below broke off and sank further into the deeper depths of the mantle.
“It seems the heavy base of the tectonic plate has ‘dripped’ off into the mantle, leaving a massive gap in the plate beneath Central Anatolia. Essentially, by dropping this dense lithospheric anchor, there has been an upward bobbing of the entire land mass across hundreds of kilometres,” said Professor Oğuz H. Göğüş of the Eurasia Institute of Earth Sciences at Istanbul Technical University (ITU), lead author of a study reporting the findings published in Nature Communications this month.
It’s a new idea where plate shortening initially squeezed and folded a mountain belt, triggering the thickening and dripping of the deep lithosphere, and then increasing the elevation of most of central Turkey. Puzzled by the presence of such a process at a significant distance away from regular plate tectonic boundaries, the research team set about identifying why, in an area of high heating and high elevation, is the lithosphere below completely gone – something that was recently discovered from seismology.
They tested high-performance computational models against known geological and geophysical observations of the Central Anatolian Plateau, and demonstrated that a drip of lithospheric material below the surface can account for the measured elevation changes across the region.
“It’s a new variation on the fundamental concepts of plate tectonics,” said Professor Russell Pysklywec, chair of the Department of Earth Sciences at U of T and one of the study’s coauthors. “It gives us some insight into the connection between the slow circulation of near-solid rock in Earth’s mantle caused by convection currents carrying heat upwards from the planet’s interior, and observed active plate tectonics at the surface.
“This is part of the holy grail of plate tectonics – linking the two processes to understand how the crust responds to the mantle thermal engine of the planet.”
Pysklywec carried out the study with Göğüş, who received his PhD from U of T in 2010, and fellow researchers at ITU including Professor A. M. C. Şengör, and Erkan Gün of the Eurasia Institute of Earth Sciences at Istanbul Technical Institute. Gün is also now a current graduate student at U of T, supervised by Pysklywec. The research adds to decades of groundbreaking work in plate tectonics at U of T, and builds on Wilson’s seminal work.
“Tuzo Wilson is a towering figure in geophysics internationally and the person most responsible for pioneering the ideas of plate tectonics in the 1960s,” said Pysklywec. “I am pleased that we are continuing his legacy in geophysics with our work.”
While Pysklywec notes there are many locations on Earth missing its lithosphere below, he is quick to reassure that no place is in imminent danger of sinking into the mantle or boosting upwards overnight. “Our results show that the Central Anatolian Plateau rose over a period of millions of years. We’re talking about mantle fluid motions and uplift at the pace at which fingernails grow.”
Göğüş highlights the links of the tectonics with human history saying, “The findings are exciting also because of the link with the remarkable historical human activity of Central Anatolia where some of the earliest known civilizations have existed. For example, Central Anatolia is described as an elevated, dry, cold plain of Lycaonia in Strabo’s Geographika in 7 BC, and even cave paintings in the region dating to approximately 7000 BC record active volcanic eruptions on the plateau.”