Tuesday, September 19, 2017

10 things you (probably) didn’t know about the Great Fire of London

History Extra


On 5 September 1666, the 33-year-old Samuel Pepys climbed the steeple of the ancient church of All Hallows-by-the-Tower and was met with the “the saddest sight of desolation that I ever saw; everywhere great fires, oyle-cellars, and brimstone, and other things burning”. Leaving the church, he wandered along Gracechurch Street, Fenchurch Street and Lombard Street towards the Royal Exchange, which he found to be “a sad sight” with all the pillars and statues (except one of Sir Thomas Gresham) destroyed. The ground scorched his feet and he found nothing but dust, ash and ruins. It was the fourth day of the Great Fire of London and, though some parts of the city would continue to burn for months, the worst of the destruction was finally over.

 Thanks in part to Pepys’s vivid diary entries, the story of the Great Fire is well known. Alongside the fortunes of Henry VIII’s wives, the Battle of Britain and the fate of Guy Fawkes, it forms part of a scattering of familiar islands in the muddy quagmire of British history. We all know, roughly speaking, what happened: during the early hours of 2 September 1666, a fire broke out in Thomas Farriner’s bakehouse on Pudding Lane, which blazed and spread with such ferocity and speed that within a few days the old City of London was reduced to a charred ruin. More than 13,000 houses, 87 churches and 44 livery halls were destroyed, the historic city gates were wrecked, and the Guildhall, St Paul’s Cathedral, Baynard’s Castle and the Royal Exchange were severely damaged – in some cases, beyond repair.

 Those with more than a passing knowledge of the crucial facts might be aware of accounts of King Charles II fighting the fire alongside his brother, the Duke of York; of Samuel Pepys taking pains to bury his prized parmesan cheese; or of the French watchmaker Robert Hubert meeting his death at Tyburn after (falsely) claiming to have started the blaze. Here are 10 more facts you may not know about the Great Fire of London…

 1) It did not start on Pudding Lane Thomas Farriner’s bakehouse was not located on Pudding Lane proper. Hearth Tax records created just before the fire place Farriner’s bakehouse on Fish Yard, a small enclave off Pudding Lane. His immediate neighbours included a waterbearer named Henry More, a sexton [a person who looks after a church and churchyard] named Thomas Birt, the parish ‘clearke’, a plasterer named George Porter, one Alice Spencer, a widow named Mrs Mary Whittacre, and a turner named John Bibie.




Billingsgate, London, pictured in 1598. Until boundary changes in 2003, the ward included Pudding Lane. (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)

 2) The Great Fire of London was not Thomas Farriner’s first brush with trouble In 1627, the then 10- or 11-year-old Thomas Farriner was discovered by a city constable wandering alone within the city walls, having run away from his master [it is not known why he had a master at this time]. He was detained at Bridewell Prison, where the incident was recorded in the book of minutes.

 During the 17th century, Bridewell (a former Tudor palace) was a kind of proto-correctional facility where young waifs and strays would often be sent to receive a rudimentary education, many of them then cherry-picked to become apprentices to the prison’s patrons.

 During the boy’s hearing, it transpired that he had attempted to run away from his master three or four times previously. Farriner was released, only to be detained once more in 1628 for the same reason. A year later he was apprenticed as a baker under one Thomas Dodson.

 3) Far from levelling the city, the Great Fire of London scorched the skin and flesh from the city’s buildings – but their skeletons remained The ruins of many of London’s buildings had to be demolished before rebuilding work could begin. A sketch from 1673 by Thomas Wyck shows the extent of the ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral that remained. John Evelyn described the remaining stones as standing upright, fragile and “calcined”. What’s more, the burning lasted months, not days: Pepys recorded that cellars were still burning in March of the following year. With plenty of nooks and crannies to commandeer, gangs operated among the ruins, pretending to offer travellers a ‘link’ (escorted passage) – only to rob them blind and leave them for dead. Many of those who lost their homes and livelihood to the fire built temporary shacks on the ruins of their former homes and shops until this was prohibited.


Old St Paul's Cathedral burning in the Great Fire of London, 1666. By Wenceslaus Hollar. (Photo by Guildhall Library & Art Gallery/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

 4) At the time of the Great Fire, England was engaged in a costly war with the Dutch Republic and was gearing up for one last battle The conflict, known as the Second Anglo-Dutch War, was the second of three 17th-century maritime wars to be fought between the English and the Dutch over transatlantic trade supremacy. By September 1666 there had already been five major engagements: the battle of Lowestoft (1665); the battle of Vågen (1665); the Four Days’ Battle (1666); St James’s Day Battle (1666); and Holmes’s Bonfire (1666).

 In the confusion of the blaze, some believed that the Great Fire of London had been started by Dutch merchants in retaliation for the last of these engagements – a vicious raid on the Dutch islands of Vlieland and Terschelling – which had occurred barely a month earlier. That attack had been orchestrated by Sir Robert Holmes (renowned for his short fuse and unpredictable nature) and resulted in the destruction of an estimated 150 Dutch merchant ships and, crucially, the torching of the town of West-Terschelling.

 While the attack was celebrated with bonfires and bells in London, it appalled the Dutch, and there was rioting in Amsterdam. Aphra Behn – at that time an English spy stationed in Antwerp – wrote how she had seen a letter from a merchant’s wife “that desires her husband to com [sic] to Amsterdam home for that theare [sic] never was so great a desolation & mourning”. Behn was supposed to travel to Dort to continue her espionage, but declared that she “dare as well be hang’d as go”.

 5) Though we do not know exactly how many people died as a result of the Great Fire of London, it was almost certainly more than commonly accepted figures In the traditional telling of the Great Fire story, the human cost is negligible. Indeed, only a few years after the blaze, Edward Chamberlayne claimed that “not above six or eight persons were burnt,” and an Essex vicar named Ralph Josselin noted that “few perished in the flames.” There was undoubtedly enough warning to ensure that a large proportion of London’s population vacated hazardous areas, but for every sick person helped out of their house, there must have been others with no one to aid them. What’s more, parish records hint at a far greater death toll than previously supposed.

 At the parish of St Giles Cripplegate, for example, the number of burials increased by a third (presumably a result of citizens from destroyed parishes using this surviving church). Interestingly, there was a disproportionate rise (by two-thirds) in the number of deaths due to being “aged” and an increase in deaths attributed to “fright”. Likewise, the parish records of St Boltoph Bishopsgate show that the mean age at the time of death rose by an astonishing 12 years, from 18.3 to 31.3. This suggests either that older people were more likely to die in the month of September or that, in an age in which infanticide was rife, the deaths of young infants were not being recorded – perhaps even both.

 The diarist John Evelyn certainly believed that the foul smell in the air at the time of the fire was caused by the bodies, beds and other combustible goods of “some poor creatures”, and the poet John Dryden – who, it must be said, was out of London at the time – wrote of “helpless infants left amidst the fire”. When reports reached France, a substantial loss of life was implied: “The letters from London speak of the terrible sights of persons burned to death and calcined limbs, making it easy to believe the terror though it cannot be exactly described. The old, tender children and many sick and helpless persons were all burned in their beds and served as fuel for the flames.”

 6) Louis XIV of France offered to help It took more than a week for news of the fire to reach the French royal court in Paris, but when it did there was talk of little else. The Venetian ambassador in the French capital declared that “this accident… will be memorable through all the centuries.” 

Privately, Louis XIV must have been thrilled. It was wrongly believed that the fire had destroyed England’s magazine stores and that the English navy would be forced to retire. Because of a 1662 treaty with the Dutch Republic, France had been obliged to enter the Anglo-Dutch War on the side of the Dutch, but the French king had neither the appetite nor the navy to play an active role.

 Louis XIV publicly ordered that he would not tolerate “any rejoicings about it [the Great Fire], being such a deplorable accident involving injury to so many unhappy people”, and offered to send aid in the shape of food provisions and anything else that might be required to relieve the suffering of those left destitute.


King Louis XIV of France, c1690. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

 7) There had been a genuine plot to burn the City of London In April 1666, a group of parliamentarians led by John Rathbone and William Saunders were tried at the Old Bailey and found guilty of conspiring to assassinate Charles II, overthrow government and fire the City of London, letting down the portcullis to keep out assistance. The trial was recorded in the London Gazette, which revealed that the plotters purportedly had the support of a conspirator in Holland and had planned to execute their “Hellish design” on the anniversary of Oliver Cromwell’s death, 3 September.

 8) People let their imaginations run away with them By 6 September, news of the fire had travelled as far as Berwick, where local soldiers claimed that they had seen visions of “ships in the air”. Reporting the phenomenon back to Whitehall, one Mr Scott assured his contact that he believed it to have just been their imaginations. As he travelled across Wiltshire to gather more information about the fire, Bulstrode Whitelocke bumped into his friend Sir Seymour Pyle who had “had too much wine”. Pyle claimed that there had been a huge fight between 60,000 Presbyterians and the militia, which had resulted in the death and imprisonment of 30,000 rebels. Whitelocke soon discovered that Pyle had been “drunke & swearing & lying att almost every word”.


London Bridge on fire during the Great Fire of London, 1666. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

 9) The Great Fire of London was predicted A few weeks before the fire, one Mr Light claimed to have been asked by a “zealous Papist”: “You expect great things in ’66, and think that Rome will be destroyed, but what if it be London?”

 Meanwhile, five months before the fire Elizabeth Styles claimed to have been told by a Frenchman that at some point between June and October there would not be “a house left between Temple Bar and London Bridge”.

 In 1651, an astrologer named William Lilly created a pamphlet entitled Monarchy or No Monarchy that contained illustrative predictions of the future state of England. The images depicted not only a city blazing with fire, but scenes of naval warfare, infestations of rodents, mass death and starvation. Unsurprisingly, Lilly was called in for questioning following the fire of 1666.

 10) The Great Fire wasn’t the only blaze in London in 1666 London was thrown into a panic during the evening of 9 November when a fire broke out in the Horse Guard House, next to Whitehall Palace. It was believed that the blaze had been caused by a candle falling into some straw. According to Samuel Pepys, the whole city was put on alarm by the “horrid great fire” and a lady even fell into fits of fear. With drums beating and guards running up and down the streets, by 10pm the fire was extinguished, with little damage caused.

 Rebecca Rideal is a specialist factual television producer and writer whose credits include The Adventurers’ Guide to Britain, Bloody Tales of the Tower and David Attenborough’s First Life. She runs the online magazine The History Vault and is currently studying for her PhD on Restoration London during the Great Plague and the Great Fire at University College London. Her latest book, 1666: Plague, War and Hellfire (John Murray, 2016), is out now.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Sunk by a Tsunami, Underwater Archaeologists Finally Find the Ruins of the Roman City Neapolis

Ancient Origins


After almost a decade of searching, the ruins of the city of Neapolis have finally been located. Based on their finds so far, researchers have confirmed that a tsunami hit the area in the 4th century AD. They have also decided the city likely held a monopoly over a fermented Roman delicacy.

 Phys.org reports the vast Roman ruins were discovered off the coast of Nabeul, in northeast Tunisia. The submerged city stretches over 20 hectares (almost 50 acres). As some of Neapolis’ ruins remain aboveground, underwater archaeologists have been searching the region for the last seven years in hope of finding the underwater counterpart. Favorable weather allowed them to finally attain that goal this summer.

Based on underwater prospecting carried out at the site, the researchers have asserted Neapolis was partially submerged by a tsunami on July 21 in 365 AD, a natural disaster that also damaged Alexandria in Egypt and Greece’s island of Crete. This confirms an account recorded by the Roman soldier and historian Ammien Marcellin.


According to the Independent, Neapolis does not show up in many other records because it sided with Carthage over Rome during the Third Punic War in 149–146 BC.

 The researchers have discovered monuments, streets, and about 100 tanks that were used in the production of a fermented fish condiment known as garum.

Mounir Fantar, the head of a Tunisian-Italian archaeological mission said: “This discovery has allowed us to establish with certainty that Neapolis was a major center for the manufacture of garum and salt fish, probably the largest center in the Roman world. Probably the notables of Neapolis owed their fortune to garum.”

Vistor Labate described some details on Roman cuisine during the Empire era for Ancient Origins:

“[A]s Rome expanded and became more prosperous, food became more diverse. Romans became acquainted with the foods and cooking methods of the provinces […] The cena, which initially consisted of only one course, developed into two courses during the Republic: a main course and a dessert served with fruit or seafood. By the end of the Republic, it evolved into a three-course meal: the appetizer (gustatio), the main course (primae mensae) and the dessert (secundae mensae).”


‘The Romans of the Decadence’ (1847) by Thomas Couture. ( Public Domain )

But Labate writes that not everyone could eat that way, social class definitely played a role in the foods available to an individual:

 “[R]egular Romans could not afford to eat meat and expensive exotic foods from the provinces. They often ate the porridge made of emmer, salt, fat and water (the puls) with bread sprayed with a little bit of salt. Richer Romans ate the same porridge but added chopped vegetables, meat, cheese and various herbs to it. Bread was a staple food in ancient Rome which was often eaten with honey, olives, cheese or egg, noting that Romans also dipped their bread in wine.


‘Still life with glass bowl of fruit and vases’ by a Pompeian painter in 70 AD, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples, Italy. (Public Domain)

And if you are curious to know more about that fish paste, Pompeii Food and Drink describes it (and provides):

 “It was made by the crushing and fermentation in brine of the intestines of fish such as tuna, eel, anchovies, and mackerel. Because the production of garum created such an unpleasant smell, its fermentation was relegated to the outskirts of cities. The finished product was quite mild and subtle, and was mixed with wine, vinegar, pepper, oil, or water to enhance the flavor of many dishes. Garum is similar to fish sauce used today in Thai and Vietnamese cooking.”

Maybe garum would be a delicacy for some modern palates too?

Top Image: Underwater archaeologists off the coast of Nabeul in northeastern Tunisia at the site of the ancient Roman city of Neapolis. Source: Tunisian National Heritage Institute and the University of Sassari

By Alicia McDermott

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Iron Age House Fire Took Place When Neighbors Were Few and Far Between

Ancient Origins



A woman thumps a knocking stone in the kitchen to prepare grain in preparation for tomorrow’s big meal. Her family have all gathered and are busy at various tasks about the house – her husband has just sat down after putting some deer carcasses to smoke, their son is helping mend some fishing nets, and their daughter has taken a lamp to go upstairs and find out why the baby is crying. Suddenly she hears “Fire!” and everyone rushes out into the cool night… soon the Iron Age stone roundhouse has gone up in flames.

A team of archaeologists are trying to discover what happened at an Iron Age stone roundhouse located at Clachtoll broch in Assynt, Scotland. They say it appears the home was quickly abandoned after an accidental fire or arson, but they are unsure which even is more likely. The date for when the building caught fire and collapsed has been given as sometime between 150 BC and 50 AD.


Clachtoll Broch, Assynt Mid Excavation July 2017 by jamesmcc on Sketchfab

The work at the Iron Age site is being led by AOC Archaeology and is considered a major project. As Graeme Cavers, head of surveys at AOC Archaeology, explained to The Press & Journal : “It is a conservation project we are doing. The site is right on the edge of the sea on a cliff edge and will be a bit unstable later.”


The Iron Age roundhouse at Clachtoll broch in Assynt, Scotland. ( AOC Archaeology )

The AOC Archaeology Group’s blog on the site reports that most of the artifacts have been discovered in a layer of charcoal. They would have been typical for daily life in the Iron Age, and include items such as: mats or sacks, grains, animal bones and deer antlers, pottery fragments, iron pieces which may have been used in tools, stone whorls, and seven broken lamps. Mr. Cavers told BBC NEWS :

"One of the objects that is interesting is a knocking stone which is for the preparation of grain before it is ground into flour. We have found that stone in a state that it is filled with burnt grain. So that looks like it was in use on the day that the building caught fire."



A stone whorl found in the lower rubble layer. ( AOC Archaeology

) The Iron Age roundhouse at Clachtoll broch isn’t the only site of archaeological interest in Assynt. Actually, the location is better known for its Neolithic cairns which were likely used for burials and as family shrines. The area seemed to be less popular in the Bronze Age – only a few small cairns for single burials, some roundhouses in secluded valleys, and various burnt mounds have been identified.


Example of a Neolithic burial cairn at Camster, Caithness, Scotland. (David Shand/ CC BY 2.0 )

 But Assynt gained interest once again in the Iron Age and several large farmsteads have been found. According to the website Visit Sutherland :

 “Iron Age houses seem to have been deliberately isolated from their neighbours and were focal points surrounded by their own woods, fields, loch or burn and often with a beach suitable for landing a boat. The largest is Clachtoll Broch […] it collapsed in the last few decades BC and was never re-occupied, although there are signs of later habitation around it.”

 It is expected that work will finish at the site at the end of September.

 Top Image: Aerial view of the Iron Age roundhouse at Clachtoll broch in Assynt, Scotland. Source: AOC Archaeology Group

By Alicia McDermott

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Mycenean Tombs with Skeletal Remains Discovered near Legendary Nemea


Ancient Origins


New Mycenaean tombs have been unearthed during recent excavations at the Mycenaean cemetery of Aedonia, a village near Nemea, Greece. The Mycenaean cemetery of Aedonia includes several Late Bronze Age cemeteries dating from the 15th to 13th centuries BC.

 New Mycenean Tombs Excavated in Nemea
Tornos News reports that new Mycenaean tombs have been uncovered and examined during the second period of the advancing excavation works taking place near Nemea, Greece, which were completed on 29 July, as the Greek Ministry of Culture stated. Two chamber tombs have been discovered at the Mycenaean cemetery at Aedonia (a village almost 10 km outside Nemea) by a team led by Dr. Konstantinos Kissas of the Corinth Antiquities Ephorate, with the collaboration of Dr. Kim Shelton head of the Nemea Center for Classical Archaeology of the University of California at Berkeley.

According to their reports, the Mycenaean cemetery at Aedonia is composed mainly of chamber tombs ordered in clusters. Additionally, Tornos News reports that the hammocks are graves sculpted on the rock, which are made of three sections: the road, a downhill runway directing from the surface of the ground to the opening, and the entrance of the tomb blocked by asymmetrically positioned stones, closing up the underground burial chamber.


Entrance of the tomb blocked by stones (Greek Ministry of Culture)

One Tomb Looted, One Intact
One of the tombs, which had been looted in the 1970s, has been dated to between 1350 and 1200 BC. The second tomb is believed to be a few hundred years older as Greek Reporter mentions. Burials were also discovered in three pits and on the floor of the second chamber. One of the pits measured more than 3.5 meters long, and had been covered with large stone slabs. According to Greek Reporter, archaeologists found the human remains of three individuals there, while a second pit contained two more burials, copper arrows, and five knives, two of which had handles decorated with fine gold leaves.

Broken pieces of two piers, and commemorative vases adorned with flowers, were also spotted in the third pit. The burials on the floor were accompanied by plain vases and stone buttons.


Two burials were found in the second pit (Greek Ministry of Culture)

Nemea’s Rich History and Culture
New Nemea, a small town in Corinthia, Greece, is particularly known for its wine these days, but only a few kilometers to its west, is located the famous ancient Nemea, one of the most significant cities of the ancient world. In Greek mythology, we meet Nemea as home of the Nemean Lion, which was killed by a young Heracles. According to another legend, Nemea was the place where the infant Opheltes, lying on a bed of parsley, was murdered by a serpent while his nurse fetched water for the Seven on their way from Argos to Thebes. The myth suggests that The Seven founded the Nemean Games – the second most famous athletic event in antiquity behind the Olympics – in his honor, with the crown of victory being made of parsley. The Games were first recorded in 573 BC, at the sanctuary of Zeus at Nemea.


Campana relief with Heracles (Hercules) fighting the Nemean lion. Roman, 50 BC-50 (Public Domain)

Nemea is also famous for a bloody battle that took place there: the Battle of the Nemea River. This was the first major battle on the Corinthian front that gave the Corinthian War (395-386 BC) its name.

The specific conflict was the result of simmering tensions between the major Greek powers in the aftermath of the Great Peloponnesian War. Corinth and Thebes felt that they had been denied a just reward for their efforts, and the Spartans didn't help by expanding their power in Thessaly, an area that Thebes felt was within its sphere of influence.

Although the battle of Nemea was a clear Spartan victory it didn't actually give them much of an advantage. It did stop the allied invasion of Laconia, but with Corinth held against them the Spartans were unable to advance any further. Instead they settled back into their base at Sicyon, and awaited the return of Agesilaus. This would prove to be equally frustrating. He won an inconclusive victory at Coronea (394 BC), but was unable to make any more progress and had to retreat west into Phocis.

Fight Against Looting
 Ultimately, Tornos News reports that the Tombs of Aidonia Preservation, Heritage, and Exploration Synergasia has been committed to fight against looting, and for that reason they will apply a program to protect the site and educate the local community about the cultural and archaeological catastrophe looting can cause.

Top image: Remains found in one of the tombs (Greek Ministry of Culture)

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Friday, September 15, 2017

6,000-Year-Old Cave Find Shows Sicilians Made Wine Way Before Previously Thought

Ancient Origins


Researchers have found traces of wine in Sicily dating back to the 4th millennium BC. According to experts, that could mean that Italians have been making and drinking wine for much longer than previously believed.

 Oldest Italian Wine Found
A group of scientists led by Dr. Davide Tanasi from the University of South Florida, analyzed a small amount of remaining wine on an ancient jar found in a cave in Sicily. The results showed traces of tartaric acid and its sodium salt, which occur in grapes and the wine-making process, meaning that the region’s wine production possibly began in the early fourth millennium BC as The Guardian reports.


The jars found in a Sicilian cave were found to have small traces of wine residue. (Image: Dr. Davide Tanasi, University of South Florida)

The finding, published in Microchemical Journal, is considered extremely important as it’s the earliest discovery of wine residue in the entire prehistory of the Italian peninsula. In other words, the discovery could reshape the history of winemaking in Italy, since previous recovery of seeds and samples made archaeologists (falsely) believe that winemaking developed in Italy during the Middle Bronze Age, around 1300-1100BC.

“Unlike earlier discoveries that were limited to vines and so showed only that grapes were being grown, our work has resulted in the identification of a wine residue,” Dr. Tanasi tells The Guardian. He continues, “That obviously involves not just the practice of viticulture but the production of actual wine – and during a much earlier period.”


The jars were found in a cave near Monte Kronio, Agrigento, Sicily (ConsorzioTouristicodeiTempli)

Still not the Oldest Wine in Europe’s History?
The newly found Copper Age containers may contained traces of 6,000 years old wine, making it the oldest known Italian wine, but is it the oldest wine in Europe’s history? Not likely. As previously reported in an Ancient Origins article, archaeologists excavating a prehistoric settlement site in northern Greece in 2013, completed analyses of wine samples from ancient ceramics revealing evidence of wine dating back to 4200 BC, which makes it still the oldest known sample of wine in Europe.

This sample was located at an ancient settlement known as Dikili Tash, 1.2 miles from the ancient city of Philippi and has been inhabited since 6500 BC. Not much is known about the people who lived at Dikili Tash during these periods as of yet, so the 2013 findings offered some insight into these ancient people, although the societal changes that may have been influenced by the consumption of alcohol is still an issue of debate.


"Mosaic of the cupbearers", from the 2nd century AD. J.-C., from Dougga, in the National Museum of Bardo, Tunisia (CC BY 3.0)

 "The find is highly significant for the European prehistory, because it is for the moment the oldest indication for vinification in Europe," said Dimitra Malamidou, co-director of the 2013 excavation at the site. "The historical meaning of our discovery is important for the Aegean and the European prehistory, as it gives evidence of early developments of the agricultural and diet practices, affecting social processes," she added.


Wine boy at a Greek symposium. He uses an oinochoe (wine jug, in his right hand) to draw wine from a crater, in order to fill a kylix (shallow cup, in his left hand). Tondo of an Attic red-figure cup, ca. 490-480 BC. (Public Domain)

It is believed that the wine traces in Dikili Tash represent the oldest known traces of wine drinking in Europe. Previous studies have unearthed a 6,100-year-old Armenian winery, and beyond Europe, scientists have found traces of a 9,000-year-old Chinese alcohol made from rice, honey and fruit.

New Find Sheds Light on Vinification in Ancient Sicily
From the so far findings, the team of researchers conducting the study has managed to understand how the ancient Italians were using the pottery jar and what they were drinking almost 6,000 years ago, “The goal was that to shed new light on the use of certain ceramic shapes and infer some hypothesis about ancient dietary habits,” they write as IBTimes reported. And add, “Insights into the diets of early societies can be gained, indirectly, from the cultural evidence of artifacts related to food procurement, preparation and consumption, and [from] human skeletal remains.”

However, scientists suggest that more direct proof for dietary habits derived from the distinguishing of intact plant and animal remains collected during the excavations but also from the analysis of the amorphous remains of foodstuff associated with artifacts.

 Wine Could be an Offering to Gods According to Experts
Ultimately, Dr. Tanasi told CNN that the wine may have been left in the cave as an offering to underground deities. “The cave site of Monte Kronio is also a cult place used for religious practices from prehistory to Classical times,” Tanasi said. And added, “This discovery has important archaeological and historical implications.”

The next step for his team is to find out whether the wine was red or white, according to Dr. Tanasi’s statement.

Top image: Fresco depicting two lares pouring wine from a drinking horn (rhyton) into a bucket (situla), they stand on either side of a scene of sacrifice, beneath a pair of serpents bringers of prosperity and abondance, Pompeii, Naples Archaeological Museum (CC BY-SA 2.0)

 By Theodoros Karasavvas

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Ancient Mall Found in Famous Theater City of Aspendos Shows Commerce and Entertainment Went Hand-in-Hand

Ancient Origins


The ancient city of Aspendos was a major commercial center in Roman times. The recent excavations of a large shop complex with offices and storage facilities dating back some 2,000 years provide more insight on the products that were stored and sold near the city’s famous theater. Akin to cinemas found in shopping malls today, the Romans here combined both commerce and entertainment too.


A 2000-year-old two-story shop complex has been excavated at Aspendos, Turkey. (CROSS)

Many coins were discovered in the shops from the Hellenistic and Roman eras. Aspendos coins, minted from the 5th century BC, were often used in the Hellenistic era. The recently unearthed coins had the figure of a slingshot stone on one side and a horse depicted on the other. The appearance of a horse can be connected to Aspendos’ recognition for horse breeding.


Example of a silver stater coin from Aspendos dating to 370-333 BC. Obverse: Olympic games-type scene: two wrestlers grappling, the letters delta and alpha between their legs; Reverse: Olympic games-type scene of a slinger, wearing short chiton, discharging sling to right, triskeles on right with feet clockwise. (Ancientcointraders/CC BY SA 4.0)

Hacettepe University Archaeology Department’s Veli Köse is currently heading the excavations at Antalya and told Hurriyet Daily “We think valuable materials were sold or held in these stores. Some were used as offices. The fact that such a unique structure was unearthed right next to the agora in the city center supports this idea.”

 Some of the products that were apparently stored and sold in the complex include: a small glass amphora, pieces of oil and perfume bottles, candles, a bronze belt buckle, a bone hair pin, and lots of studs and rings.




Some of the artifacts found at the shop complex location of the site of Aspendos, Turkey. (Daily Sabah)

The shops were the focus of the recent excavations, yet the team also found hundreds of mussel shells in a field and some wall painting remnants at other locations around the site.

 “The existence of two-storey shops and a structure complex in an ancient city symbolizes that this place was an important commercial center. We also know it from the inscriptions. Aspendos is famous especially for grain harvest and horse breeding,” Köse concluded.

 The ancient city of Aspendos was established in the 10th century BC. It was likely the most important city in Pamphylia, with its golden age being the Roman period – a great time for trade and commerce. Legends say the famous Greek diviner Mopsos founded the city, however, evidence of a Hittite settlement brings up some debate about the first inhabitants. The city came under Persian rule in the 6th century BC. It was then taken by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. By the Roman period, Aspendos was an important harbor city. Yet, it fell from grace in the Byzantine period with the empire’s centralization policies. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2015.


Ruins of the Basilica at Aspendos, Turkey. (Saffron Blaze/CC BY SA 3.0)

The city is most famous for its Roman theater, the Aspendos Ancient Theater, which seats 7,000 people. The theater is one of the most visited historic sites in Turkey's Antalya province and it is the best preserved ancient theater in the country. Another feature that makes the theater famous is its remarkable acoustics. Even the slightest sound made at the center of the orchestra can be easily heard as far as the uppermost galleries. The theater hosts events by the Aspendos Opera and a ballet festival in the summer.


The theater at Aspendos, Turkey. (CC BY SA 3.0)

Apart from the theater, the Aspendos archaeological site also contains the ruins of a small temple, a nymphaeum (fountain shrine), the foundations of a bouleuterion (council chamber), and a Roman aqueduct.


Roman aqueduct of Aspendos, Turkey. (Bernard Gagnon/CC BY SA 3.0)

Top Image: The famous Roman theater at Aspendos, Turkey. Source: Saffron Blaze/CC BY SA 3.0

By Alicia McDermott

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

New Study Reveals that London was the Most Violent Place in Medieval England

Ancient Origins


A new study suggests that medieval London was notorious for its excessive violence. The overall findings suggest that violence affected many parts of medieval London, although predictably it disproportionately affected the lower socioeconomic classes.

 Analysis of 399 Skulls Reveals London’s Violent Past
Medieval times could be truly rough times for any man – especially a poor one – as a new study shows. The study identified the patterns and prevalence of violence-related skull trauma among a large sample of skeletons from medieval London. “It appears that violence in medieval London may have been largely tied to sex and social status,” archaeologist Kathryn Krakowka from the University of Oxford tells New Scientist, having reached that conclusion after examining 399 skulls from six different sites from across medieval London (1050-1550).

The skulls were analyzed for evidence of trauma and assessed for the likelihood that it was caused by violence. Kathryn Krakowka and her team collected the skulls from two types of cemeteries; monastic and free parish. The monastic cemeteries were usually reserved for the upper class while the free parish was used by the lower socioeconomic classes.


Skull exhibiting trauma fracture (Museum of London)

Poor Suffered More Violence
 Unsurprisingly, males from the free parish cemeteries appear to have been the demographic most affected by violence-related skull injuries, particularly blunt force trauma to the cranial vault. Specifically, Krakowka found that 6.8 per cent of all skulls examined showed some kind of violence-related trauma, while it was mostly males from 26 to 35 years old that were affected. Additionally, nearly 25 per cent of the skull injuries took place near the time of death, indicating that people died from blows to their heads.

Furthermore, Krakowka noticed that the London cemeteries she explored had a violence rate almost double than elsewhere else in England. Despite the results showing violence was more prevalent in medieval London than in any other part of medieval England, it appears to be quite similar to other parts of medieval Europe. “High levels of violence are evident in cemeteries from other parts of medieval Europe such as Croatia,” Krakowka told New Scientist, as a similar study showed an incredible 20.1 per cent of people had cranial fractures in Croatia.


Triumph of the Deputies, William Hogarth, 1764. (Public Domain)

Poor Had No Access to Law
The fact that males from the free parish cemeteries were disproportionately affected by violence-related trauma, especially blunt force trauma, makes Krakowka speculate that this could be the result of an informal conflict resolution between individuals of lower status, as the newly established medieval legal system wasn’t available to them as they couldn’t afford the fees or didn’t know how to access the services. On the other hand, she concludes that the upper classes had access to the developing legal system of the time, and this was how they usually avoided a more informal (and violent) way of resolving disputes.

Coroners’ rolls from the time bolster Krakowka’s suggestions as it shows that a way too large amount of homicides took place on Sunday night, when many working-class men would have been drinking at a pub, and on Monday morning. “This, in combination with my results, possibly suggests that those of lower status resolved conflict through informal fights that may or may not have been fueled by drunkenness,” Krakowka tells New Scientist.

Luke Glowacki, an anthropologist from the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, France, agrees with Krakowka’s conclusions, “People of low status don’t have resort to the rule of law. Unable to hire a barrister to represent them, they resort to violence as a means to resolve conflict,” he tells New Scientist. To conclude, the researchers also noted that even if individuals from the upper class decided to solve a dispute between them (outside a court), they would have most likely fought under different rules, where swords were in play and armor would be involved in order to protect the heads of the opponents.

Top image: Fight with Cudgels, 1819-1823 by Francisco de Goya (Public Domain)

 By Theodoros Karasavvas

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Two Pregnant Women and their Fetuses Latest Victims of Mount Vesuvius’ Eruption


Ancient Origins


fter being buried in ash for more than 1,900 years, new victims of the devastating eruption in the Pompeii area have been discovered, including two pregnant women and their newborn or late-term fetuses. Experts suggest that the new discovery could be a “game-changer” for Roman bioarcheology.  
The Catastrophic Eruption
Mount Vesuvius was responsible for the destruction of the city of Pompeii on August 24, 79 AD and is without a doubt the most famous volcanic eruption in history, even though not the deadliest one, as many people falsely tend to believe. Still, scientists have estimated that Mt. Vesuvius released thermal energy 100,000 times more powerful than the atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. For the record, before the eruption of Vesuvius, there was no word for volcano. They had to come up with one right after the catastrophic eruption. The word is derived from “Vulcan," the Roman God of Fire.

 New Skeletons are Discovered
As Fox News reports, the estimates as to how many people were killed in Pompeii vary greatly, and the number has been a heated topic of debate among historians for decades. Most historians, however, will agree that at least a thousand people were buried under dozens of feet of lava in the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. It might sound macabre, but the tons of ash and hot gas that killed so many of Pompeii’s citizens, are also the reason why their bodies have been so greatly preserved.


Villa Oplontis as it is today (CC BY SA 2.0)

Surprisingly, the human remains of four more victims, two pregnant women and their newborn or late-term fetuses as Fox News reports, have been found among an estimated fifty others in a building in the nearby villa of Oplontis. Despite more than half of these fifty skeletons being unearthed during the mid-1980s and the others being partly uncovered in 1991, the human remains of the women and their fetuses were fully excavated only a few weeks ago. “This summer, I headed a small team that excavated the remaining skeletons and collected osteological data on all of the people who were trapped at Oplontis by the volcano,” Kristina Kilgrove, a bioarcheologist at the University of West Florida, wrote in Forbes.


Photomodel of skeletons in situ, Room 10, Oplontis B (Torre Annunziata, Italy). (Credit: N.Terrenato and M. Naglak, University of Michigan)

Newly Discovered Skeletons Could be “Game-Changer”
After sitting beneath a thick layer of ash for more than 1,500 years, Pompeii was accidentally discovered in 1599 when the workers who were digging a water channel unearthed frescoes and an inscription containing the name of the city. The most decorated Italian architect of the time, Domenico Fontana, visited the site to examine the finds and unearthed a few more frescoes. Unfortunately, he was also a huge prude. He re-covered them because of the excessive sexual content of the paintings. In this way, the city became buried again (thanks to censorship) for nearly another 150 years before the king of Naples, Charles of Bourbon, ordered the proper excavation of the site during the late 1740s.

Since then, Pompeii became the center of interest for thousands of archaeologists, historians and scientists. An excited Kilgrove, however, believes that the discovery of the four new “victims” could change Roman history and add even more (cultural) prestige to Pompeii, “These newly analyzed skeletons from Oplontis are a game-changer in Roman bioarcheology, since they represent people who all died catastrophically, rather than after an illness. This means that these skeletons give archaeologists a better glimpse into what life was like for people in their prime than do cemetery burials,” she wrote in Forbes.

She goes on to explain why the skeletons of the women and their fetuses could be particularly intriguing, “While their biological relationship is not in question, their disease status and diet certainly are. If the mother suffered from an intestinal parasite or an infectious disease, did that affect the fetus as well? How will the carbon and nitrogen isotopes reflect the mother's diet of food and the fetus's ‘diet’ of maternal nutrition and energy stores? For our further research, we hope to answer questions such as these that cannot be solved through study of history and archaeology alone,” she writes in Forbes.


Vesuvius erupting at Night, (William Marlow circa 1768) (Public Domain)

Only One Firsthand Account Exists
Ultimately, despite being the most famous volcanic eruption throughout the centuries, there’s only one recorded account saved that describes the catastrophic aftermath of the Mount Vesuvius eruption and it comes from Pliny the Younger. In a letter to Tacitus, Pliny describes what he experienced during the second day of the disaster:

“A dense black cloud was coming up behind us, spreading over the Earth like a flood. 'Let us leave the road while we can still see,' I said, 'or we shall be knocked down and trampled underfoot in the dark by the crowd behind.' We had scarcely sat down to rest when darkness fell, not the dark of a moonless or cloudy night, but as if the lamp had been put out in a closed room. You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men; some were calling their parents, others their children or their wives, trying to recognize them by their voices. People bewailed their own fate or that of their relatives, and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying. Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness forevermore.”

Top image: Skeletons in the' Boat Houses', Herculaneum (Public Domain)

 By Theodoros Karasavvas

Monday, September 11, 2017

Roman Era Tombs Discovered in Egypt Reveal Diverse Trends in Burial Architecture and Grave Goods


Ancient Origins


Not all Egyptian tombs are alike. Apart from the impact of social status, there is also a difference in architectural styles and burial preferences over the long history of their existence. This can be noted in five Roman era mudbrick tombs which have been unearthed during excavation works at the Beir Al-Shaghala site in Dakhla Oasis.

 The Beir Al-Shaghala site is located near three other archaeological sites - Mut al- Kharab, Tal Markula, and Koam Beshay. The well-preserved tombs were found by an archaeological mission from the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, who have been working at the site since 2002 according to Egypt Independent.


Tombs at the Beir Al-Shaghala site, Egypt. (Ministry of Antiquities)

Head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Sector Ayma Ashmawi described the differing layouts of the tombs to Egyptian Streets:

“The first one has an entrance that leads to a rectangular hall with two burial chambers; the second tomb has a domed ceiling and its entrance leads to a burial chamber, while the third one is a pyramid shaped tomb which the mission has yet succeeded to uncover its upper part. The fourth and fifth tombs are sharing one entrance and each tomb has a burial chamber with a domed ceiling.”


The vaulted ceiling in one of the tombs. (Ministry of Antiquities)

The tombs have provided a wealth of interesting artifacts. So far, Ahram Online reports archaeologists have found pottery vessels of varying shapes and sizes, a gypsum funerary mask painted yellow, a clay incense burner, and the base of a small sandstone sphinx statue.


The funerary mask found in one of the tombs. (Ministry of Antiquities)

Two ostraca (ink-inscribed shards of pottery) were also discovered - one written in hieroglyphic text and the other in hieratic. Bryan Hill explained the rise of hieratic script in a previous article for Ancient Origins. He wrote:

“Egyptian hieroglyphs are among the oldest writing systems in the world, dating back some 5,200 years […] Around 2700 BC, hieratic (meaning ‘priestly’ by the Greeks) script was introduced which was a form of writing more akin to alphabet letters. Hieratic script eventually became widely used as a faster, more functional form of writing and used for monumental inscriptions. It remained the Egyptian script for about two millennia or until Demotic script was introduced in the 7th century BC.”



An ostracon found in a tomb. (Ministry of Antiquities)

Work will continue at Beir Al-Shaghala to see if more ancient treasures can be recovered.

The five tombs add to eight other well-preserved Roman era tombs that were discovered in previous excavations at the archaeological site.

University College London explains some of the general differences in tomb style and burial preferences in the Roman era of Egypt. By the Roman period, shabtis and canopic jars were out of fashion (they were ‘so pre-Ptolemaic Period’). Instead, “Objects of daily use […] became a popular burial good again under Roman rule: in particular, cosmetic objects are commonly found with women.” This Roman era excavation is thus important as few cemeteries of the Roman Period have been properly audited and finds documented.

 Mummy portraits, or at least Roman or Greek style funerary masks, were preferred over Egyptian style mummy masks. But plaster masks in the Greek/Roman style were apparently the favorite option for the elite.




Fayum mummy portraits of two women. (Left: Public Domain and Right: Public Domain)

By this time, coffins had largely become nothing more elaborate than simple boxes, but mummification became more popular. Multiple burials were also more common for people of all levels of society.


Clay pots of different shapes and sizes were found in the tombs. (Ministry of Antiquities)

Top Image: The five Roman tombs found at the Beir Al-Shaghala site in the Dakhla Oasis of Egypt's Western Desert. (Ministry of Antiquities) Insert: A funerary mask found in one of the tombs. (Ministry of Antiquities)

 By Alicia McDermott

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Picking Apart the Picts: The Value of Aberdeen's Newest Discovery

Ancient Origins



One of the greatest mysteries of Scotland lies in the northeastern portion of the country. Though named for the Scots because the titular medieval clan won a decisive battle, much of Scotland's history lies in the culture which thrived from the "Dark Ages" up until the medieval period (400-1000AD). This culture is the Picts, and unfortunately, outside of the United Kingdom, the name means little. Yet scholars continue in their determination to uncover the secrets of Pictish life and spread Pictish history beyond the British Isles. Most recently, excavations at Burghead in the northern region of Moray have provided exciting new information of Pictish domesticity.

 Historical Clues of the Picts Damaged, Destroyed and Buried
The University of Aberdeen has been examining the site at Burghead since 2015 in the hopes of both learning more about the early medieval civilization, as well as salvaging what remains of the site from developmental damage inflicted in the 19 th century. The current town of Burghead was built atop the Pictish site, and the findings of the Burghead Bulls, Pictish artifacts and an underground well were unfortunately determined less important than the necessity of the new town and subsequent road. Because of this building program, archaeologists have feared that evidence of Pictish life at the site was likely damaged or destroyed, thus preventing archaeologists from examining the town in recent decades.

Archaeological excavations at Burghead uncovered relics of the Picts. Credit: University of Aberdeen

More Than Just Any Pictish Fort
Yet the University of Aberdeen refused to lose hope. There was too much evidence that a treasure of Pictish life might still be buried in the dirt at Burghead. The remains of an upper enclosure, stone revetments and timber ramparts led to a belief that Burghead was more than a just any Pictish fort, but possibly the location of a northern Pictish stronghold called Fortriu. Medieval texts discussed Fortriu as highly valuable to Pictish politics, and the archaeological evidence of the Moray region seemed to indicate the likelihood of its position at Burghead. A minimum of four large stone carvings of Pictish bulls survived the 19 th century renovations of the town, and at least two dozen carvings resembling the Pictish style were uncovered in a pair of caves called Covesea only miles from Burghead. This literary and art historical evidence has long kept scholars from giving up the Pictish scavenger hunt at Burghead. Quite recently, efforts from the University of Aberdeen paid off, revealing the remnants of a Pictish longhouse.




The Pictish fort at Burghead, circa 6th Century AD. Reconstruction of the largest Pictish fort known ( megalithic.co.uk)

 Domestic Life in a Royal Complex
The discovery of a domestic space within a royal complex might seem minute to those unfamiliar with excavations or early medieval political spaces. Aberdeen's Dr. Gordon Noble says it best, dictating that finding the longhouse may provide evidence of "how power was materialized within these important fortified sites." A longhouse within the complex of the Pictish leader indicates that the domestic and political spheres were connected, and that separation of the two would likely have been detrimental for reasons heretofore unknown. It is possible that the complex contained storerooms of cereals, grains and other agricultural produce necessary for survival; it might have incorporated an area for butchering animals both for meat and for hides, as seen at the monastery of Portmahomack. Though these two examples are suppositions by this author, the intention of posing the possibility of such undiscovered locations is to accentuate the point that a royal stronghold would have incorporated these more "common" and domicile aspects (and others), whereas a simple fort would have been much less inclusive as it would have not required the same necessities.


Pictish bull carving, the "Burghead Bull", now in the British Museum ( CC by SA 3.0 )

What the University of Aberdeen has recently done is attempt to preserve the damage of these early discoveries, and search for finds that were not uncovered during the overhaul in the 19 th century and early 20 th centuries. Though the exterior perimeter of the site has been examined in the past, Noble points out that few scholars have attempted to examine the site's interior in recent decades. It was here the Aberdeen team chose to begin, and where the profound discovery of the Pictish longhouse was made a mere two years later. While most details of the Burghead longhouse still remain under wraps, there mere fact of discovery indicates that the secrets of the Picts may yet be buried in Scottish soils, waiting for dedicated archaeologists to strip away their covers and bring them into the light.

Top image: This is the "Celtic Cross" side of a Pictish stone in Aberlemno, Scotland. This stone dates from around 700AD, and the other side of it has some of the mysterious symbols used by the Picts, who lived in this part of Scotland at the time. ( Neil Howard / flickr )

 By Riley Winters

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Poisonings Went Hand in Hand with the Drinking Water in Ancient Pompeii

Ancient Origins


The ancient Romans were famous for their advanced water supply. But the drinking water in the pipelines was probably poisoned on a scale that may have led to daily problems with vomiting, diarrhea, and liver and kidney damage. This is the finding of analyses of water pipe from Pompeii.

"The concentrations were high and were definitely problematic for the ancient Romans. Their drinking water must have been decidedly hazardous to health." This is what a chemist from University of Southern Denmark reveals: Kaare Lund Rasmussen, a specialist in archaeological chemistry. He analyzed a piece of water pipe from Pompeii, and the result surprised both him and his fellow scientists. The pipes contained high levels of the toxic chemical element, antimony.

 The result has been published in the journal Toxicology Letters.

 Romans Poisoned Themselves
For many years, archaeologists have believed that the Romans' water pipes were problematic when it came to public health. After all, they were made of lead: a heavy metal that accumulates in the body and eventually shows up as damage to the nervous system and organs. Lead is also very harmful to children. So there has been a long-lived thesis that the Romans poisoned themselves to a point of ruin through their drinking water.


Lead water pipe, Roman, 20-47 CE with owner’s name cast into the pipe. The most notable lady Valeria Messalina’ (third wife of the Roman Emperor Claudius) (CC BY 4.0)

 "However, this thesis is not always tenable. A lead pipe gets calcified rather quickly, thereby preventing the lead from getting into the drinking water. In other words, there were only short periods when the drinking water was poisoned by lead: for example, when the pipes were laid or when they were repaired: assuming, of course, that there was lime in the water, which there usually was," says Kaare Lund Rasmussen.


Ancient roman lead pipes in Ostia Antica (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Advanced Equipment at SDU
Unlike lead, antimony is acutely toxic. In other words, you react quickly after drinking poisoned water. The element is particularly irritating to the bowels, and the reactions are excessive vomiting and diarrhea that can lead to dehydration. In severe cases, it can also affect the liver and kidneys and, in the worst-case scenario, can cause cardiac arrest.

 This new knowledge of alarmingly high concentrations of antimony comes from a piece of water pipe found in Pompeii. -

 Or, more precisely, a small metal fragment of 40 mg, which I obtained from my French colleague, Professor Philippe Charlier of the Max Fourestier Hospital, who asked if I would attempt to analyse it. The fact is that we have some particularly advanced equipment at SDU, which enables us to detect chemical elements in a sample and, ever more importantly, to measure where they occur in large concentrations.

 Volcano Made it Even Worse
 Kaare Lund Rasmussen underlines that he only analyzed this one little fragment of water pipe from Pompeii. It will take several analyses before we can get a more precise picture of the extent, to which Roman public health was affected.

But there is no question that the drinking water in Pompeii contained alarming concentrations of antimony, and that the concentration was even higher than in other parts of the Roman Empire, because Pompeii was located in the vicinity of the volcano, Mount Vesuvius. Antimony also occurs naturally in groundwater near volcanoes.


The lead pipe sample is being analyzed at University of Southern Denmark. Credit: SDU

This is What the Researchers Did
The measurements were conducted on a Bruker 820 Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer.

The sample was dissolved in concentrated nitric acid. 2 ml of the dissolved sample was transferred to a loop and injected as an aerosol in a stream of argon gas which was heated to 6000 degrees C by the plasma.

All the elements in the sample were ionized and transferred as an ion beam into the mass spectrometer. By comparing the measurements against measurements on a known standard the concentration of each element is determined.

Top Image: An original Roman lead waterpipe in Bath, England. Photo: Andrew Dunn/CC BY SA 2.0).

 University of Southern Denmark. "Poisonings went hand in hand with the drinking water in ancient Pompeii." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 August 2017. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170817110902.htm

The article ‘Poisonings went hand in hand with the drinking water in ancient Pompeii’ was originally published on Science Daily and has been republished under a Creative Commons license.