Category Archives: EUROPE

The World’s Smallest Elephants Led Unusually Long Lives

The World’s Smallest Elephants Led Unusually Long Lives

Ancient elephants that would have been born the size of a puppy lived for decades more than previously thought. Researchers studying an ancient miniature elephant that lived on Mediterranean islands found it could have lived for over 68 years, which is unusually long for a mammal of its size. The smallest-ever elephant took a leisurely approach to growing up, with a drawn-out development lasting up to 15 years.

Though it was barely a meter tall, a team of European scientists found that Palaeoloxodon Falconeri grew much more slowly than its modern relatives, with modern African bush elephants entering adulthood four years earlier than their extinct relatives despite being much bigger.

Their findings contradict previous studies which suggest P. Falconeri would only have lived for 26 years, suggesting that the species would have lived for at least seven decades, and perhaps even longer.

Professor Meike Köhler, the paper’s lead author, says, ‘Traditionally this species had been considered to have a rapid development, reaching sexual maturity early and having a short life. Our work reveals that the life history of this elephant was much slower.

‘Organisms that grow at slower rates have fewer errors in biosynthesis which leads to an extended lifespan.’

Dr Victoria Herridge, who researches fossil elephants at the Museum and co-wrote the paper, says, ‘It’s hard to know why these elephants grew so slowly. There is an idea that the islands had limited resources and predators, so on the one hand food is scarce, but on the other, there is very low mortality.

‘This would allow for a slower investment in growth over a longer period, but without paying the price that smaller individuals pay on the mainland, such as a death in the jaws of a predator. However, the reasoning behind that is still debated.

‘There’s a lot we don’t know about this species, but its slower growth shifts our thinking a little bit on how these elephants evolved.’

The findings, led by the Miquel Crusafont Catalan Institute of Paleontology, were published in Scientific Reports.

Bigger is better

It’s been known for some time that when it comes to mammals and birds, larger animals live longer. While some shrews live for little more than a year, mammals at the other end of the weight spectrum can live for centuries.

The bowhead whale, which can grow up to 18 meters long or about the length of a bowling alley, has been estimated to have been over for over 200 years. Some bowheads have lived so long that they still contain Victorian harpoons used to try and kill them over a century ago.

While the relationship between size and lifespan generally holds across mammals and birds, lifestyle can have an impact. For instance, flying animals generally live longer than their ground-dwelling relatives, with small bats living for much longer than rats and shrews of a similar size.

However, there are a few notable exceptions. Naked mole rats can live for around 30 years, while humans have used technological innovations and medicine to allow us to live for longer too. Previously, it had been thought that the miniature elephants fitted well with the overall pattern.

After diverging from the largest elephant to ever live, the straight-tusked elephant, it was thought that P. Falconeri would have shortened its lifespan as it dwarfed over the millennia it was isolated on what is now the island of Sicily.

‘Palaeoloxodon Falconeri is the smallest elephant ever to have existed, living on both Malta and Sicily,’ says Victoria. ‘At the time, we didn’t know if the area was one large island or an archipelago in the Mediterranean.

‘They are remarkable animals. They were around a meter tall, which is about the same size as a newborn African elephant but they were adults. As babies, they would only have been the size of a puppy.’

While little is known about the species’ life, it is assumed to have grown smaller through a process of miniaturization which is common to many island species due to a lack of resources, predators and competitor species. Looking at the overall trend in life history for mammals, it was estimated that an elephant of this size would live for at least 26 years.

The new study analyzed the growth of teeth, bones and tusks from Spingallo Cave, near Siracusa in southeast Sicily, to provide a more accurate estimate, which shows the species is an exception to the rule.

Professor Antonietta Rossa, from the University of Catania, Sicily, where the fossils are housed and coauthor of the study, says, ‘Spinagallo Cave is outstanding for the number of remains. This abundance of bones provides enough material for analyzing specimens of different ages and growth stages.’

Good things come to those who wait

The researchers found that across the different types of remains studied, P. Falconeri grew very slowly. Though elephants are generally already slow-growing, this species was even more so. While most species grow rapidly as an infant before slowing down after reaching adulthood, the Sicilian elephants grew at a fairly constant rate throughout their entire lives.

Even the oldest specimens grew only two millimeters a year more slowly than the youngest, while the difference for African bush elephants is around a centimeter a year.

However, this slow growth was compensated for by a much longer developmental period, with some bones not showing signs of adulthood even by the age of 22. The age of sexual maturity was similarly delayed, with all evidence pointing towards 15 years in P. Falconeri, compared with 12 years in living African elephants.

‘Given the later age of sexual maturity, their gestation period may also have been longer or similar to large African elephants,’ says Victoria. ‘And of course, those newborns would also take a long time to grow up, leading to long generation times.’

Researchers have suggested that this long period of development could have resulted from a lack of predators in Sicily. This would allow the elephant to grow more slowly as there was little danger of infants being hunted.

As it was less likely to die, this meant that there was less evolutionary pressure for P. Falconeri to grow up fast and reproduce. As a result, selection pressures instead drove it to grow slowly, allowing more time for learning and development over decades rather than years.

However, this slow development would have put it at a disadvantage when it came to sudden changes. Longer development means that evolution acts more slowly, requiring many generations to make significant changes.

‘By taking the inferred age of sexual maturity we can see their gestation period may have been similar to large African elephants,’ Victoria says. 

‘Even though it’s a lot smaller than a full-sized elephant, it’s behaving like a very large animal in terms of its generation time which makes it more vulnerable to extinction. 

‘Island populations are already vulnerable to extinction because they are often unique and not very numerous so it all adds up.’

The period in which P. Falconeri lived was one of dramatic environmental and climatic change, with Sicily changing tectonic activity and sea level. This could have put even more pressure on the elephant’s limited resources and may have led to its extinction around 400,000 years ago.

Hercules Head Unearthed in 2,000-Year-Old Shipwreck Treasure Trove

Hercules Head Unearthed in 2,000-Year-Old Shipwreck Treasure Trove

The Roman ship is thought to have sunk near Antikythera, a Greek island in the southern Aegean Sea in the second quarter of the first century B.C. While divers first found several stunning artifacts from the wreck 100 years ago, a wealth of new treasures has been discovered after experts created the first phases of a precise digital 3D model of the shipwreck.

Scientists made the model using thousands of underwater photographs of the seafloor site in a technique known as photogrammetry.

More discoveries are likely on the way thanks to this new model, but this is not the only thing that helped experts to uncover the treasure trove.

An earthquake is thought to have occurred sometime after the sinking of the ship, and archaeologists had to remove several large boulders that were strewn over the wreck as a result of the event.

In May and June this year, experts used underwater lifting equipment of pressurized airbags to remove the boulders, some of which weighed about 9.5 tons (8.5 metric tonnes).

After this, the huge wealth of treasure that was contained within what was once the ship’s hull was then revealed. While carrying this out, the marine archaeologists were reportedly working at depths of 50 meters so they could access the areas that had never been explored before.

The ship is thought to have once been around 180ft long, but experts say the wooden hull has since rotted away. Amongst the treasure was a huge marble head of a sculpture likely depicting the Greek/Roman demigod Hercules.

Prof Lorenz Baumer, an archaeologist at the University of Geneva, said: “It’s a most impressive marble piece. “It is twice lifesize, has a big beard, a very particular face and short hair. There is no doubt it is Hercules.”

Experts suspect that this head was once attached to a sculpture with the rest of Hercules’ body that was first found by divers way back in 1900.

During this time, they also discovered the Antikythera Mechanism – a mechanical model of the sun, moon and planets that is now on display in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

Prof Lorenz Baumer said that both finds were likely made in the same area of the ship. He told Live Science: “The site is quite big.

“It’s some 50 meters [164 feet] across, and it’s covered by rocks. It’s possible that [more fragments] are hiding in the rocks, but they could be anywhere.”

The ship also contained Greek artworks, several bronze statues, and over 38 marble sculptures. The research team also discovered two human teeth inside marine deposits and fragments of copper and wood.

Archaeologists had to remove several large boulders that were strewn over the wreck

Now, experts are hoping to analyze isotopes in the enamel of the teeth as this can help uncover the geochemistry of the environment at the time that the teeth were formed.

This can help to reveal things such as a person’s diet or place of origin, and they can also contain DNA.

Stratos Charchalakis, the mayor of Kythira, said: “The ship could have gone down anywhere but, that said, every discovery puts us on the map and is exciting.

“The truth is that for an island with just 30 inhabitants, the wreck has had a huge social and economic impact. It has helped keep its shops and people going.”

Priceless Ancient Bronze Statues Unearthed in Etruscan Baths of San Casciano dei Bagni, Italy 

Priceless Ancient Bronze Statues Unearthed in Etruscan Baths of San Casciano dei Bagni, Italy

An “exceptional” trove of bronze statues preserved for thousands of years by mud and boiling water has been discovered in a network of baths built by the Etruscans in Tuscany.

The 24 partly submerged statues, which date back 2,300 years and have been hailed as the most significant find of their kind in 50 years, include a sleeping ephebe lying next to Hygeia, the goddess of health, with a snake wrapped around her arm.

Archaeologists came across the statues during excavations at the ancient spa in San Casciano dei Bagni, near Siena. The modern-day spa, which contains 42 hot springs, is close to the ancient site and is one of Italy’s most popular spa destinations.

Close to the ephebe (an adolescent male, typically 17-18 years old) and Hygeia was a statue of Apollo and a host of others representing matrons, children and emperors.

Believed to have been built by the Etruscans in the third century BC, the baths, which include fountains and altars, were made more opulent during the Roman period, with emperors including Augustus frequenting the springs for their health and therapeutic benefits.

Alongside the 24 bronze statues, five of which are almost a metre tall, archaeologists found thousands of coins as well as Etruscan and Latin inscriptions. Visitors are said to have thrown coins into the baths as a gesture for good luck for their health.

Massimo Osanna, the director general of museums at the Italian culture ministry, said the relics were the most significant discovery of their kind since two full-size Greek bronzes of naked bearded warriors were found off the Calabrian coast near Riace in 1972. “It is certainly one of the most significant discoveries of bronzes in the history of the ancient Mediterranean,” Osanna told the Italian news agency Ansa.

The excavation project at San Casciano dei Bagni has been led by the archaeologist Jacopo Tabolli since 2019. In August, several artefacts, including fertility statues that were thought to have been used as dedications to the gods, were found at the site. Tabolli, a professor at the University for Foreigners of Siena, described the latest discovery as “absolutely unique”.

The Etruscan civilisation thrived in Italy, mostly in the central regions of Tuscany and Umbria, for 500 years before the arrival of the Roman Republic. The Etruscans had a strong influence on Roman cultural and artistic traditions.

Initial analysis of the 24 statues, believed to have been made by local craftsmen between the second and first centuries BC, as well as countless votive offerings discovered at the site, indicates that the relics perhaps originally belonged to elite Etruscan and Roman families, landowners, local lords and Roman emperors.

Tabolli told Ansa that the hot springs, rich in minerals including calcium and magnesium, remained active until the fifth century, before being closed down, but not destroyed, during Christian times. The pools were sealed with heavy stone pillars while the divine statues were left in the sacred water.

The treasure trove was found after archaeologists removed the covering. “It is the greatest store of statues from ancient Italy and is the only one whose context we can wholly reconstruct,” said Tabolli.

The recently appointed Italian culture minister, Gennaro Sangiuliano, said the “exceptional discovery” confirms once again that “Italy is a country full of huge and unique treasures”.

The relics represent an important testament to the transition between the Etruscan and Roman periods, with the baths being considered a haven of peace.

“Even in historical epochs in which the most awful conflicts were raging outside, inside these pools and on these altars the two worlds, the Etruscan and Roman ones, appear to have coexisted without problems,” said Tabolli.

Excavations at the site will resume next spring, while the winter period will be used to restore and conduct further studies on the relics.

The artefacts will be housed in a 16th-century building recently bought by the culture ministry in the town of San Casciano. The site of the ancient baths will also be developed into an archaeological park.

“All of this will be enhanced and harmonised, and could represent a further opportunity for the spiritual growth of our culture, and also of the cultural industry of our country,” said Sangiuliano.

800,000-Year-Old Human Footprints Discovered in UK

800,000-Year-Old Human Footprints Discovered in UK

Archaeologists today announced the discovery of a series of footprints left by a group of adults and children about 800,000 years ago. The prints were first discovered and recorded on the foreshore at Happisburgh in Norfolk, England, in May 2013.

Human footprints, thought to be more than 800,000 years old, discovered at Happisburgh, England

“At first we weren’t sure what we were seeing, but as we removed any remaining beach sand and sponged off the seawater, it was clear that the hollows resembled prints, perhaps human footprints,” said Dr Nick Ashton of the British Museum, the lead author of a paper published in the open-access journal PLoS ONE.

Footprint surface.

Using a technique called photogrammetry, Dr Ashton and his colleagues recorded the surface as quickly as possible before the sea eroded it away. The analysis of images confirmed that the elongated hollows were indeed ancient human footprints, perhaps of five individuals.

The analysis showed that the prints were from a range of adult and juvenile foot sizes and that in some cases the heel, arch and even toes could be identified, equating to modern shoes of up to U.S. size 9-10 (European 39-41).

800,000-year-old human footprint.

“In some cases we could accurately measure the length and width of the footprints and estimate the height of the individuals who made them. In most populations today and in the past foot length is approximately 15 percent of height,” explained co-author Dr Isabelle De Groote of Liverpool John Moores University.

“We can therefore estimate that the heights varied from about 0.9 m to over 1.7 m. This height range suggests a mix of adults and children with the largest print possibly being a male.”

Model of footprint surface produced from photogrammetric survey with enlarged photo of a footprint showing toe impressions.

Over the last ten years the sediments at Happisburgh have revealed a series of sites with stone tools and fossil bones, dating back to over 800,000 years. This latest discovery is from the same deposits.

“Although we knew that the sediments were old, we had to be certain that the hollows were also ancient and hadn’t been created recently,” said co-author Dr Simon Lewis from Queen Mary University of London.

“There are no known erosional processes that create that pattern. In addition, the sediments are too compacted for the hollows to have been made recently.”

Model of footprint surface generated from photogrammetric survey.

The age of the site, 800,000 years ago, is based on its geological position beneath the glacial deposits that form the cliffs, but also the association with extinct animals.

The site also preserves plant remains and pollen, together with beetles and shells, which allows a detailed reconstruction of the landscape. At this time Britain was linked by land to continental Europe and the site at Happisburgh would have been on the banks of a wide estuary several miles from the coast. There would have been muddy freshwater pools on the floodplain with salt marsh and coast nearby.

Deer, bison, mammoth, hippo and rhino grazed the river valley, surrounded by more dense coniferous forest. The estuary provided a rich array of resources for the early humans with edible plant tubers, seaweed and shellfish nearby, while the grazing herds would have provided meat through hunting or scavenging.

Fossil remains of our forebears are still proving elusive.

“The humans who made the Happisburgh footprints may well have been related to the people of similar antiquity from Atapuerca in Spain, assigned to the species Homo antecessor. These people were of a similar height to ourselves and were fully bipedal.

They seem to have become extinct in Europe by 600,000 years ago and were perhaps replaced by the species Homo heidelbergensis.

Neanderthals followed from about 400,000 years ago, and eventually modern humans some 40,000 years ago,” said co-author Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum, UK.

The importance of the Happisburgh footprints is highlighted by the rarity of footprints surviving elsewhere.

Only those at Laetoli in Tanzania at about 3.5 million years and at Ileret and Koobi Fora in Kenya at about 1.5 million years are more ancient.

“These footprints provide a very tangible link to our forebears and deep past,” Dr Ashton concluded.

135-Year-Old Message In A Bottle Found In Floorboards – Amazing Victorian Time Capsule

135-Year-Old Message In A Bottle Found In Floorboards – Amazing Victorian Time Capsule

A rather incredible discovery occurred in Edinburgh, Scotland, where a woman found a 135-year-old message in a bottle under her floorboards.

Everything started in October 1877 when two local workers left a note under the floorboards at a Morningside villa. The message was placed in a bottle and left untouched until now when Eilidh Stimpson, a mother of two found it in her Morningside home in Edinburgh!

“Stimpson couldn’t believe her eyes as she read out the hand-written message on the withered note, which had been rolled up inside an empty whisky bottle since the day the floor was laid.

The Victorian time capsule was discovered on Monday by local plumber Peter Allan who just happened to cut through the exact place in the floorboards where it had been left on October 6, 1887,” the Edinburgh Live reports.

The message in a bottle left mum Eilidh Stimpson stunned on Monday

“It’s pretty cool,” Eilidh, who works as a GP, told Edinburgh Live. “And so lucky as well, because we were meant to be moving a radiator from one side of the wall to the other. The plumber came and started cutting a hole and said it was going to be a bit of a nightmare as there was a floor on top of a floor.

“Then he came down the stairs going, ‘Look at what I just found in the hole I just made!’. It was quite exciting.”

Peter and Eilidh decided to until her children came home from school, and Eilidh’s partner returned from work before opening the bottle and reading the old message.

Together they tried to get the message out of the bottle, but it was easier said than done. There was no way to remove the old note without tearing it, so they had no other option than to break the bottle.

“Eilidh explained: “We were desperately trying to get the note out with tweezers and pliers, but it started to rip a little bit. We didn’t want to damage it further, so regrettably had to smash the Bottle.”

As reported by Edunburgh Live, “untouched for an astonishing 7,049 weeks and four days, the message written on the mysterious parchment was finally revealed.

Signed and dated by two male workers, the message read: “James Ritchie and John Grieve laid this floor, but they did not drink the whisky. October 6th, 1887. Whoever finds this bottle may think our dust is blowing along the road.”

Intrigued to find out more about the workers, a friend of Eilidh’s conducted a bit of research and found that there were two men registered as living in the Newington area by the same names in the 1880s.

Following his incredible discovery, plumber Peter Allan, who works with Bruntsfield firm WF Wightman, told us: “It’s all a bit strange, but what a find! Where I cut the hole in the floor, is exactly where the bottle was located, which is crazy and so random.”

On Wednesday, Eilidh took to social media to share her family’s incredible find with the community.

Eilidh added: “We’ve just been amazingly lucky, and I’m glad everyone thinks it’s as interesting as we do. It feels quite nice to have a positive news story amid all this doom and gloom that’s around at the moment.

The note contained a message from the two workers who laid the floor in 1887

“Now, I’m thinking we need to preserve the note and replace it with a message of our own for future generations to discover.”

Responding to Eilidh’s post on the I Love Morningside page on Facebook, Lucie McAus commented: “I don’t think they ever could have predicted when they wrote it that you would be able to take a photograph using a device no bigger than your hand and put it instantly on a platform that could reach the entire community in a few seconds. Incredible.

“If you place one for the next person who knows how it would be discovered and the information shared? What a lovely timeframe from the past.”

2,000 Years of Genetic History in Scandinavia: Unraveling the Viking Age to Modern Times

2,000 Years of Genetic History in Scandinavia: Unraveling the Viking Age to Modern Times

A new study published in the journal Cell on January captures a genetic history across Scandinavia over 2,000 years, from the Iron Age to the present day.

This look back at Scandinavian history is based on an analysis of 48 new and 249 published ancient human genomes representing multiple iconic archaeological sites together with genetic data from more than 16,500 people living in Scandinavia today.

Among other intriguing findings, the new study led by Stockholm University and deCODE genetics (Reykjavik) offers insight into migration patterns and gene flow during the Viking age (750–1050 CE). It also shows that ancestries that were introduced into the area during the Viking period later declined for reasons that aren’t clear.

“Although still evident in modern Scandinavians, levels of non-local ancestry in some regions are lower than those observed in ancient individuals from the Viking to Medieval periods,” said Ricardo Rodríguez-Varela of Stockholm University.

“This suggests that ancient individuals with non-Scandinavian ancestry contributed proportionately less to the current gene pool in Scandinavia than expected based on the patterns observed in the archaeological record.”

“Different processes brought people from different areas to Scandinavia,” added Anders Götherström, Stockholm University.

The researchers hadn’t originally planned to piece together Scandinavian history over time and space. Rather, they were working on three separate studies focused on different archaeological sites.

“When we were analyzing the genetic affinities of the individuals from different archaeological sites such as the Vendel period boat burials, Viking period chamber burials, and well-known archaeological sites like the Migration period Sandby borg ringfort, known for the massacre that occurred there in 500 CE, and individuals from the 17th-century royal Swedish warship Kronan, we start to see differences in the levels and origin of non-local ancestry across the different regions and periods of Scandinavia,” Rodríguez-Varela explained.

“Initially, we were working with three different studies,” Götherström said. “One on Sandby Borg, one on the boat burials, and one on the man-of-war Kronan. At some point, it made more sense to unite them to one study on the Scandinavian demography during the latest 2,000 years.”

The goal was to document how past migrations have affected the Scandinavian gene pool across time and space to better understand the current Scandinavian genetic structure.

As reported in the new study, the researchers found regional variation in the timing and magnitude of gene flow from three sources: the eastern Baltic, the British Irish Isles, and southern Europe.

British Irish ancestry was widespread in Scandinavia from the Viking period, whereas eastern Baltic ancestry is more localized to Gotland and central Sweden.

In some regions, a drop in current levels of external ancestry suggests that ancient immigrants contributed proportionately less to the modern Scandinavian gene pool than indicated by the ancestry of genomes from the Viking and Medieval periods.

Finally, the data show that a north-south genetic cline that characterizes modern Scandinavians is mainly due to differential levels of Uralic ancestry. It also shows that this cline existed in the Viking Age and possibly even earlier.

Götherström suggests that what the data reveal about the nature of the Viking period is perhaps most intriguing. The migration from the west impacted all of Scandinavia, and the migration from the east was sex-biased, with the movement primarily of female people into the region.

As the researchers write, the findings overall “indicate a major increase [in gene flow] during the Viking period and a potential bias toward females in the introduction of eastern Baltic and, to a lesser extent, British-Irish ancestries.

“Gene flow from the British-Irish Isles during this period seems to have had a lasting impact on the gene pool in most parts of Scandinavia,” they continued.

“This is perhaps not surprising given the extent of Norse activities in the British-Irish Isles, starting in the 8th century with recurrent raids and culminating in the 11th century North Sea Empire, the personal union that united the kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and England.

The circumstances and fate of people of British-Irish ancestry who arrived in Scandinavia at this time are likely to have been variable, ranging from the forced migration of slaves to the voluntary immigration of more high-ranking individuals such as Christian missionaries and monks.”

Overall, the findings show that the Viking period in Scandinavia was a very dynamic time, they say, with people moving around and doing many different things. In future work, they hope to add additional genetic data in hopes of learning more about how the ancestries that arrived during the Viking period were later diluted. They’d also like to pinpoint when the north-south cline was shaped based on a study of larger ancient datasets from the north.

“We need more pre-Viking individuals from north Scandinavia to investigate when the Uralic ancestry enters this region,” Rodríguez-Varela said. “Also, individuals from 1000 BCE to 0 are very scarce, [and] retrieving DNA from Scandinavian individuals with these chronologies will be important to understand the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age in this part of the world.

Finally, more individuals from the Medieval period until the present will help us to understand when and why we observe a reduction in the levels of non-local ancestry in some current regions of Scandinavia.”

“There is so much fascinating information about our prehistory to be explored in ancient genomes,” Götherström said.

Ancient Expensive Roman Domus With Beautiful Mosaic Unearthed In Rome

Ancient Expensive Roman Domus With Beautiful Mosaic Unearthed In Rome

Archaeologists working within the Colosseum Archaeological Park’s research project, have unearthed some rooms of a luxurious domus dated to the late Republican age.

The discovery was made in close vicinity of the Horrea Agrippiana warehouse complex along the Vicus Tuscus (commercial road that connected the river port on the Tiber and the Roman Forum built by Augustus’ son-in-law, Marco Vipsanio Agrippa.)

The domus is spread over several floors, probably divided into terraces, and characterized by at least three building phases dating back to the second half of the 2nd century BC and the end of the 1st century BC.

Distributed around an atrium/garden, the domus presents, as its main environment (the specus aestivus) a banquet hall that imitates a cave, used during the summer season and originally animated by spectacular games of water thanks to the passage of some lead fistulas (pipes) between the decorated walls.

An extraordinary wall decorated with the so-called “rustic” mosaic, characterized by the complexity of the scenes depicted and chronology, makes this discovery unique, researchers say in a press release.

The mosaic – dated to the last decades of the 2nd century BC – is made up of different types of shells, Egyptian blue tiles, precious glass, minute flakes of white marble or other types of stone, tartars (fragments of spongy travertine), and all this is bound by mortar and warps. The mosaic presents a complex sequence of figurative scenes.

In the four aedicules, defined by pilasters and decorated with vases from which shoots of lotus and vine leaves emerge, stacks of weapons are depicted with Celtic-type trumpets (carnyx), prows of ships with tridents, rudders with triremes which allude, perhaps , to a double triumph, land and naval, of the owner of the domus.

The large lunette above also presents a fascinating depiction of a landscape with, in the centre, a city, with a cliff simulated with travertine tartars, overlooking the sea crossed by three large ships, one of which with raised sails; a city wall with small towers surrounds the city equipped with porticoes, gates, and a large public building; on one side a pastoral scene.

The representation of a coastal city could allude to a war conquest by the owner of the domus, belonging to an aristocratic figure, presumably of senatorial rank, according to researchers.

In an adjoining reception room, however, the careful restoration work has brought to light a white stucco covering with landscapes within fake architecture and figures of the highest quality.

“The discovery of a new domus with an environment decorated with a truly extraordinary mosaic represents an important result which demonstrates, once again, how much the Colosseum Archaeological Park and the Ministry of Culture are constantly committed to promoting research, knowledge, protection and enhancement of our extraordinary cultural heritage.

The discovery then has an important scientific value which makes the domus even more relevant.

After the reopening of the Domus Tiberiana and the improvement of the accessibility of the Flavian Amphitheater, with the inauguration of the elevator which now reaches the third level, the heart of Romanity has therefore revealed an authentic treasure, which it will be our responsibility to safeguard and make accessible to the public”, according the Minister of Culture, Gennaro Sangiuliano.

The archaeological excavation will end in the first months of 2024 and then, this specacular ancient structure will be prepared to finally welcome the public.

Archaeologists Uncover 2,000-year-old Wooden Bridge Linking England and Wales

Archaeologists Uncover 2,000-year-old Wooden Bridge Linking England and Wales

In the historic town of Chepstow, often referred to as the “gateway to Wales,” a team of archaeologists recently made a remarkable discovery.

Nestled beneath the shadow of a 950-year-old Norman castle and hidden within the muddy banks of the River Wye, this discovery has unveiled a fascinating piece of history that uniquely connects England and Wales.

Chepstow, with its 12th-century Norman castle and rich history, is known for its strategic importance throughout various periods. The town’s historical significance goes beyond its medieval fortress, as archaeologists have previously uncovered evidence of prehistoric, Roman, and Anglo-Saxon fortifications within its borders.

However, the most recent revelation has taken historians and archaeologists by surprise. During an “extreme low tide event,” researchers stumbled upon a remarkably preserved wooden bridge, believed to have been constructed by the Romans around 2,000 years ago.

This ancient structure, hidden beneath layers of mud for centuries, served as a vital link between England and Wales long before the modern boundaries of these two countries existed.

Simon Maddison, a member of the Chepstow Archaeological Society (CAS), described the discovery, saying, “The team was able to locate upright timbers in a tidal pool on the location of the Roman crossing.

Until the results come back, we won’t know for sure the period of the structure. We are thrilled with what we were able to achieve and await dating results with keen anticipation.”

The wooden bridge’s existence suggests that it was a critical passageway for travelers between Wales and England for centuries, facilitating trade, communication, and cultural exchange during a time when modern transportation networks were nonexistent.

This discovery was made possible due to a fortuitous two-hour “extreme low tide event,” during which the upright timbers of the bridge became visible in a tidal pool just off the riverbed.

The excavation process involved exposing substantial timbers and intricate joints, likely part of the original pier and cutwater structure.

Researchers collected timber samples for dendrochronological and potential Carbon-14 dating, which will provide more precise information about the bridge’s age.

Assisting the CAS team during the excavation were members of the Severn Area Rescue Association (SARA), who played a crucial role in ensuring the safety of the researchers navigating the challenging and sticky mud of the riverbank.

Simon Maddison expressed gratitude for SARA’s assistance, stating, “The mud was very dense and very sticky, and we frequently got stuck in it. Without SARA, it would have been impossibly dangerous.”

This remarkable crossing, predating the existing Monmouth and Chepstow bridges, offers a unique glimpse into the region’s ancient past. Interestingly, it was first discovered and partially excavated back in 1911 by Dr. Orville Owen, an early pioneer in the field of archaeology.

Despite being recorded at the time and appearing on an old Ordnance Survey map, the bridge’s precise location remained a mystery, buried beneath layers of mud.

Chepstow’s rich history traces back to ancient times. Archaeological evidence indicates that the area was inhabited during the prehistoric period, featuring various ancient fortifications and settlements. During the Roman era, Chepstow was a significant settlement, serving as a key point along the Roman road network.

Subsequently, the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings left their mark on Chepstow before it was conquered by the Normans in the 11th century. The construction of Chepstow Castle by Norman lord William FitzOsbern marked the town’s transformation into a strategic stronghold, a legacy that endures to this day.

Holding Cell for Gladiators, Doomed Prisoners Found at Roman Amphitheater in England

Holding Cell for Gladiators, Doomed Prisoners Found at Roman Amphitheater in England

Archaeologists say that the amphitheater in Richborough, Kent, could hold up to 5,000 spectators who cheered on charging gladiators and roaring wild animals in epic fights.

Today, the Roman-era amphitheater in Richborough, Kent, blends into the landscape. But it was once the site of violent gladiatorial combat, and archaeologists with English Heritage have just come across a holding cell, called a “carcer,” where gladiators waited to fight.

“The discoveries we’ve made during the excavation at Richborough are startling and exciting, and dramatically transform our understanding of the structure of the amphitheater and the nature of adjacent settlement in the town,” said Paul Pattison, English Heritage senior properties historian.

Researchers have known about the amphitheatre since 1849 when Victorian archaeologists discovered it. But the most recent examination of the site revealed a cell within the arena.

With walls more than six feet tall, the cell once held “those who entered the arena to meet their fate, whether wild animals, criminals, or gladiators,” according to English Heritage.

Archaeologists have been aware of the amphitheater since 1849, but the holding cell for gladiators is a new discovery.

Though much is unknown about the amphitheater, its chalk and turf construction suggests it was built around the 1st century when Romans first invaded Britain. At its peak, it would have been an impressive sight: Archeologists found surprising traces of “vivid” red and blue paints on its interior walls.

“The evidence of painted decoration we have found on the arena wall, a unique find so far in amphitheaters in Britain, is remarkable, and a wonderful reminder that aspects of Roman culture abroad were also a feature of life in Roman Britain,” explained Tony Wilmott, senior archaeologist at Historic England.

Wilmott noted that the amphitheater could probably hold about 5,000 spectators, who — just like in Rome — descended to watch bloody gladiator fights. Sometimes, these fights pitted gladiators against each other. Other times, in especially violent battles called venationes, prisoners or gladiators fought against wild animals like lions and bears.

The mere existence of the amphitheater speaks to Richborough’s important place in the Roman Empire. Then called Rutupiae or Portus Ritupis, the settlement likely existed from the 1st to the 4th century, or as long as the Romans occupied Britain. It was said to be renowned throughout the empire for the quality of its oysters.

Richborough is now believed to have been occupied for almost the entire period of Roman rule in Britain

“As Richborough is coastal, it would have provided a connection between what was at the time called Britannia and the rest of the Roman Empire,” explained Pattison, noting that Richborough would have been unique and diverse.

“Because of that, all sorts of Romans who came from all corners of the Empire would have passed through and lived in the settlement.”

Alongside the carcer, archeologists found several artifacts that help paint a picture of life in Roman-era Richborough. They found coins, pottery, the bones of butchered animals, and jewelry.

Remarkably, archeologists also found the carefully buried skeleton of what appeared to be a pet cat.

Dubbed “Maxipus” by archeologists — after Russell Crowe’s character in The Gladiator — the cat was found buried just outside the amphitheater walls. It may have had nothing to do with the amphitheater itself but “appeared purposefully buried on the edge of a ditch,” according to English Heritage.

The skull of what appeared to be a carefully buried pet cat.

In addition, the most recent excavation also uncovered the puzzling remnants of two “badly burnt” and “bright orange” rectangular areas just outside the amphitheater.

“It is not yet known what function these buildings fulfilled,” noted English Heritage, “but it is possible they stood on each side of an entrance leading up to the seating bank of the arena.”

The fire that destroyed the structures, the organization said, “must have been dramatic.”

Now, Richborough’s amphitheater exists only as a circular field covered in grass. But, as the existence of the holding cell suggests, this part of the world once rang with thousands of screaming spectators, roaring animals, and charging gladiators.

English Heritage is hopeful to share it with the world. Following the end of their excavation, the on-site museum in Richborough will undergo a “major refurbishment and re-presentation.” It will open to the public in summer 2022.

Rare 1,900-Year-Old Roman Crucifixion Evidence Unearthed in Cambridgeshire, UK

Rare 1,900-Year-Old Roman Crucifixion Evidence Unearthed in Cambridgeshire, UK

Archaeologists in Cambridgeshire, U.K., have discovered what may be the best-preserved physical evidence of crucifixion—a 1,900-year-old skeleton with a two-inch iron nail driven through his heel.

Originally unearthed by a team from Albion Archaeology  during  excavations in the village of Fenstanton in 2017, the remains date to between A.D. 130 to 337.

The findings from the dig are published in the new issue of British Archaeology magazine.

“This is an extraordinarily important find because it is only the second discovery of a crucifixion victim from Roman times,” John Granger Cook, a professor at LaGrange College in Georgia and the author of Crucifixion in the Mediterranean World told the Independent.

The skeleton has a nail piercing its foot, perhaps the best-preserved archaeological evidence of crucifixion as carried out by the Roman Empire.

He estimates that the Romans used crucifixion, which kills its victims through asphyxiation, to execute only about 100,000 to 150,000 people before Emperor Constantine outlawed the practice in A.D. 337 after converting to Christianity.

As a particularly drawn-out and gruesome means of capital punishment, crucifixion is believed to have been reserved for enslaved people and enemies of the state.

Most victims were likely secured by rope, rather than nails, and would probably not have received formal burials, making it difficult to find physical evidence of their cause of death.

The skeleton has a nail piercing its foot, perhaps the best-preserved archaeological evidence of crucifixion as carried out by the Roman Empire.

The deceased found in Fenstanton would have been a 25-to-35-year-old man measuring about 5 foot 7, reports the Guardian. His foot was nailed down to keep him from writhing around during his last moments while existing injuries to his legs suggest he was kept enslaved and shackled prior to his death.

He was buried with a timber structure, perhaps the bier on which he was executed.

Only four other examples of the remains of possible Crucifixion victims, including ones from Gavello, Italy, and Mendes, Egypt, have been identified; this skeleton is the first to be found in northern Europe.

Construction workers in Jerusalem found the only other one featuring a nail in 1968, but the body was not intact, and thus is not fully accepted as firm evidence of crucifixion in archaeological circles.

“It’s essentially the first time that we’ve found physical evidence for this practice of crucifixion during an archaeological excavation,” dig leader David Ingham, of Albion Archaeology, told the Daily Mail.

The skeleton was found during a 2017 dig in the village of Fenstanton.

“You just don’t find this. We have written evidence, but we almost never find physical evidence.”

Excavations in Fenstanton have turned up 48 ancient graves, as well as ceramics and a horse-shaped copper alloy brooch decorated with enamel.

The village lies along an ancient Roman road called the Via Devana, between Cambridge and Godmanchester.