Category Archives: ROMAN

Roman Mosaic Re-Exposed by Archaeologists In Folkestone

Roman Mosaic Re-Exposed by Archaeologists In Folkestone

The Remains of a Roman mosaic reburied 65-years-ago has been re-exposed by Archaeologists from the canterbury Archaeologists trust

The mosaic is part of the central dining room from a large 2nd century villa complex situated on the cliffs overlooking Folkestone, England.

Beneath the Roman foundations are traces of an earlier Iron Age settlement, occupied by native Britons centuries before the Roman invasion.

Several rooms of a bath-suite have already been lost since they were first excavated due to continuing coastal erosion.

The complex was first excavated by archaeologists in 1924, however, the cost of maintaining the site led to the mosaic being reburied to preserve the monument.

Local accounts at the time reported the mosaic being in a poor state of preservation.

Excavations during the 1920’s found Classis Britannica tiles which suggests that the villa might have a connection to the Roman Navy in Britain, or that the villa was possibly some sort of signalling station.

For reasons that are unclear, the villa seems to have been abandoned sometime in the late third century. It was briefly reoccupied in the 4th century, before it was abandoned and buried under sediments.

Due to the threat of coastal erosion, the mosaic is now under threat of falling into the sea, evidenced by the loss of several rooms of a bath-suite which have already been lost since the 1920’s.

Beginning in 2010, the Canterbury Archaeological Trust has been recording sites under threat as part of a collaboration with local volunteers and university students.

The aim of the study at the Folkestone mosaic is to determine what still survives and how best to preserve the monument.

The team found that the southern part of the mosaic survives, thanks in part to the restoration works conducted in the 1920s to stabilise what remained of the Roman designs.

After documenting the remains, the mosaic will re-buried while discussions on whether it should be lifted and preserved for displaying in a museum are undertaken.

Jaw-Dropping Discovery: 18th-Century Mummified Monks Revealed Suffering From Tuberculosis Infections

Jaw-Dropping Discovery: 18th-Century Mummified Monks Revealed Suffering From Tuberculosis Infections

Scientists recently examined tissue samples from tuberculosis-infected bodies that were naturally mummified in a church crypt in Vac, Hungary. Researchers found that tuberculosis that killed them in the 1700s derived from an ancestral strain of the bacteria dating from Roman times still circulating in Europe in the 18th century.

The bodies, excavated in 1994, were naturally mummified by extremely dry air and pine chips in coffins. The pine chips have natural antimicrobial agents and absorbed moisture.

The bodies had been buried in a church crypt between 1731 and 1838. They were Catholics, buried fully clothed, and many of them were rich, says an article in Their clothing too was preserved by the dry air.

The bodies and clothing of individuals placed in a church crypt in Vac were extremely well preserved.

Vac is just north of the Hungarian capital of Budapest. A construction worker in the Dominican church in Vac tapped on a wall and heard a hollow sound. He pulled out a brick and saw the caskets.

Experts found more than 200 bodies, 26 of which were tested because they had signs of tuberculosis infection. Eight of the bodies yielded tissue samples from which researchers were able to do genetic sequencing of the tuberculosis germs.

“What emerged is a tableau of a disease that fully lives up to its reputation in folklore,” wrote “TB was raging in 18th-century Europe, even before urbanization and crowded housing made it a killer on a much greater scale, the investigators found.”

Mycobacterium tuberculosis germs (U.S. Centers for Disease Control)

The German microbiologist Robert Koch was the first to describe Mycobacterium tuberculosis, in 1882. Koch said consumption, as people called it then, killed one in seven people. The disease is still a serious problem, but the World Health Organization reports deaths from it have been decreasing in recent decades.

In the church in Vac, the dead people’s names and how they died were recorded in documents. said that makes the bodies a valuable resource for people who study diseases because the combination gives evidence about how TB and disease spread centuries ago.

The First and Last Communion, an 1888 painting of a TB victim’s last rites, by Cristobal Rojas

“Microbiological analysis of samples from contemporary TB patients usually report a single strain of tuberculosis per patient,” Mark Pallen of the England’s University of Warwick medical school, told

Pallen was the chief researcher in the new study. “By contrast, five of the eight bodies in our study yielded more than one type of tuberculosis—remarkably, from one individual, we obtained evidence of three distinct strains.”

All eight bodies were carriers of a particularly virulent strain of tuberculosis called Lineage 4. Still today this strain infects more than 1 million people in the Americas and Europe per year.

“It confirmed the genotypic continuity of an infection that has ravaged the heart of Europe since prehistoric times,” Pallen said.

Researchers built a family tree of the TB bug and ascertained its bacterial ancestor dating to the late Roman period. This dating seems to lend credence to recent estimates that tuberculosis emerged in humans about 6,000 years ago, said. Previous research theorized tuberculosis emerged in humans tens of thousands of years ago.

The Mummies of the World exhibition, presently at the Cincinnati Museum Center in the U.S. state of Ohio, has several mummies from the church in Vac, Hungary. This photo shows the body of Veronica Orlovits.

The World Health Organization reports that about one-third of humans are infected with tuberculosis bacteria, but only a small percentage will become ill from it.

In 2013, about 9 million people became sick with the disease worldwide. Approximately 95 percent of TB deaths are in middle- and low-income nations. While the disease is a serious problem, the threat from it appears to be decreasing somewhat.

“The number of people falling ill with TB is declining and the TB death rate dropped 45 percent since 1990. For example, Brazil and China have shown a sustained decline in TB cases over the past 20 years. In this period China has had an 80% decline in deaths,” WHO reports.

Roman-era altar stone has been discovered under Leicester Cathedral

Roman-era altar stone has been discovered under Leicester Cathedral

The base of a Roman-era altar stone has been discovered under Leicester Cathedral, the first Roman altar stone ever found in Leicester. 

The area was previously believed to be a garden space in the Roman city, but archaeologists from the University of Leicester Archaeological Service (ULAS) uncovered the remains of a Roman building in the northwest quarter of the site. Inside the cellar of this building was the base of an altar stone.

Archaeologists from the University of Leicester excavate a Roman cellar at Leicester Cathedral

This was not a plain subterranean storage room. The floor is concrete and the stone walls were painted. The quality of construction materials, the decorative paintwork and the presence of the altar indicates the room was a private shrine or otherwise devoted to religious worship.

The room dates to the 2nd century A.D. and was accessed by an external passageway with timber walls and a flagstone floor. The cellar was demolished and filled deliberately in the late 3rd or early 4th century.

The altar was found toppled face-down into the rubble layer. It was made of local sandstone from a quarry just one mile away and was decorated on three sides.

The back is plain, so it was probably originally placed against a wall. About half of it survives. Archaeologists estimate it would originally have been about two feet tall.

Mathew Morris, who led the dig, said the discovery of the Roman altar – the first to be found in Leicester – was “amazing”.

He added: “For centuries, there has been a tradition that a Roman temple once stood on the site of the present cathedral.

This folktale gained wide acceptance in the late 19th century when a Roman building was discovered during the rebuilding of the church tower.”

“Underground chambers like this have often been linked with fertility and mystery cults and the worship of gods such as Mithras, Cybele, Bacchus, Dionysius and the Egyptian goddess Isis.

Sadly, no evidence of an inscription survived on our altar, but it would have been the primary site for sacrifice and offerings to the gods, and a key part of their religious ceremonies.”

Leicester Cathedral was built in the heart of the medieval city at least as early as the 12th century and likely earlier than that.

The current building mostly dates to the 19th century when the church was extensively restored, but Leicester was a seat of a bishopric from 680 A.D. until the Saxon bishop was chased out of town by invading Danes in 870 A.D., so it’s likely there was a Saxon church predating the Norman cathedral.

As part of an ambitious restoration program complete with construction of a new Heritage Learning Centre, the old churchyard and gardens have been undergoing a comprehensive excavation since October 2021.

The excavation unearthed more than 1,100 burials dating from the end of the Saxon period in the 11th century to the middle of the 19th.

Radiocarbon dating of the earliest skeletal remains will narrow down the date range, and also confirm that the original parish church of St. Martin’s was founded in the late Saxon period.

Several pieces of Roman coins were also found

The remains are currently undergoing examination that archaeologists hope will shed new light on the lives and deaths of Leicester’s inhabitants over nearly 1,000 years. When the research project is concluded, all of the individuals will be respectfully reinterred by Leicester Cathedral.

Archaeologists have also discovered the remains of a structure believed to be from the Anglo-Saxon period. If the date is confirmed, this will be the first Anglo-Saxon structure ever found in this area of Leicester.

It will expand the known map of Anglo-Saxon occupation of the town after the end of Roman occupation. A silver penny from the period (880-973 A.D.) found near the structure is the first Anglo-Saxon coin found in Leicester in almost two decades.

2,200-Year-Old New Piece of Roman Puzzle Emerges, Bringing Together Ancient Map of Rome

2,200-Year-Old New Piece of Roman Puzzle Emerges, Bringing Together Ancient Map of Rome

Maps are a useful modern tool, telling us how to get places, showing us where borders lie, and illustrating the distance between two places. 

While modern technology has made the creation of and access to maps something we don’t think twice about, the creation of maps during ancient times was far more complicated. 

Without the availability of GPS, air travel, and computers, ancient civilizations had to rely on other means for the difficult task of creating maps. 

One ancient map – the Forma Urbis Romae – has been a mystery for years, serving as a complex jigsaw as researchers continue to uncover various pieces of the puzzle, including a recently discovered fragment that has just been reunited with the other existing pieces.

Sometime between 203 and 211 AD a marble map of Rome was created. According to History of Information , the map was originally composed of 150 marble slabs, and it was 18.10 meters (60ft) high by 13 meters (43ft) wide. 

“Created at a scale of approximately 1 to 240, the map was detailed enough to show the floor plans of nearly every temple, bath, and insula in the central Roman city.

The boundaries of the plan were decided based on the available space on the marble, instead of by geographical or political borders as modern maps usually are.” 

The map shows the topography of Rome as it existed at the time, including structures such as temples, houses, shops, warehouses, and apartment buildings. 

According to Discovery News , the map was created under the rule of Emperor Septimius Severus.  Severus served as emperor from 193 to 211 and was a strong leader, known for converting the Roman government into a military monarchy.   

The Forma Urbis Romae map has only been recovered in relatively small pieces.  The fragments that have been found are currently held at the Capitoline museum in Italy. 

Researchers have recovered only approximately ten percent of the map, in 1200 pieces.  They have been attempting to piece it together for hundreds of years, since the first pieces were found in 1562. 

According to History of Information, a team of researchers from Stanford University, led by Marc Levoy, began using digital technology in an effort to solve the puzzle. 

Of the 1200 pieces collected, only about 200 have been identified.  The map was originally constructed on a wall within the Templum Pacis (Temple of Peace). 

The wall still remains, but the map was partially torn down hundreds of years ago, with the remaining pieces eventually fell, shattering into hundreds of pieces.

Some fragments of the Forma Urbis Romae in an engraving by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, 1756

In 2014, a new piece of the map was discovered while workers were working at a Vatican-owned building called Palazzo Maffei Marescotti. It is believed that the pieces ended up in that location during construction of a 16th century palace, as building materials were being recycled.

  According to museum officials, “the fragment relates to plate 31 of the map, which is the present-day area of the Ghetto, one of the monumental areas of the ancient city, dominated by the Circus Flaminius, built in 220 BC to host the Plebeian games, and where a number of important public monuments stood.” 

The new piece not only brought forth new information, but after recently being reunited with the rest of the pieces, it also allowed researchers to identify where three other existing pieces to the map belong.  This affords researchers a new outlook on the map as a whole.

The Forma Urbis Romae has been called a giant jigsaw puzzle.  Unlike other puzzles, it did not come with a box showing the final product, or uniform pieces. 

In fact, it did not even come with all of the pieces, and researchers may never know where the remaining pieces are located.  The discovery of the new piece allowed for more than just the placement of a single piece, but for a more holistic view of the map as a whole. 

As researchers continue to find pieces of the map they will better be able to piece together another impossible jigsaw puzzle – Roman history as a whole.

2,000-year-old Roman figure found during railway excavation

2,000-year-old Roman figure found during railway excavation

Archaeologists have unearthed an “extremely rare” carved wooden figurine, likely dating to early Roman Britain, in a waterlogged ditch north of London during excavations ahead of a major rail project.

The figurine is badly deteriorated, but it appears to depict a man dressed in a Roman-style tunic.

Although the figurine is thought to date from very early in the Roman occupation of Britain, it seems to portray a Roman-style tunic.

Pieces of pottery were also found in the ditch and date to between A.D. 43 and 70, during the Roman conquest of much of Britain under the emperor Claudius, which occurred from A.D. 43 to around 84. (Julius Caesar staged earlier invasions of Britain in 54 B.C. and 55 B.C. but he achieved no permanent hold on the island.)

The archaeologists suggest the figurine may have been deliberately placed in the ditch as a religious offering; the practice of depositing objects and even human sacrifices in bogs and wetlands was common throughout Northern Europe before the Roman conquests.

“The preservation of details carved into the wood, such as the hair and tunic, really start to bring the individual depicted to life,” archaeologist Iain Williamson of Fusion JV, a contractor for the government’s High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project, said in a statement.

HS2 will eventually connect the English cities of London and Manchester, covering a distance of more than 300 miles (480 kilometers). By law, all the land along the route must first be investigated by archaeologists before any construction, so the project has become a major source of new archaeological discoveries.

The figurine was found in July last year near the village of Twyford in Buckinghamshire. According to the HS2 statement, archaeologists from the private firm Infra Archaeology were working for Fusion JV, the main contractor for the central stage of HS2, near a wetland site called Three Bridge Mill when they found what they thought was a rotten piece of wood in a waterlogged Roman ditch.

Subsequent excavations revealed that it was a human-like figurine about 26 inches (67 centimeters) tall and 7 inches (18 cm) wide that had been cut from a single piece of wood.

The wooden figurine is being preserved to prevent it from deteriorating. It’s unusual for wood to survive for so long without rotting.

“Not only is the survival of a wooden figure like this extremely rare for the Roman period in Britain, but it also raises new questions about this site,” Williamson said. “Who does the wooden figure represent, what was it used for and why was it significant to the people living in this part of Buckinghamshire during the 1st century A.D.?”

One of the most surprising things about the find is that the figurine has been preserved at all. Wooden objects usually quickly rot away when exposed to oxygen, but a few ancient wooden relics have survived because they became buried in anaerobic (oxygen-free) conditions beneath layers of sediment — in this case, waterlogged clay in the ditch.

The figurine’s arms have degraded below the elbows, along with its feet, but overall it is in good condition given its age, HS2’s statement said. 

“A surprising amount of detail remains visible in the carving, with the figure’s hat or hairstyle clearly noticeable,” the statement said.

“The head is slightly rotated to the left, the tunic at the front seems to be gathered at the waist going down to above knee level, and the legs and shape of the calf muscles are well-defined.”

A spokesman for the government heritage organization Historic England, which has studied the figurine, called it a “remarkable find.”

“The quality of the carving is exquisite and the figure is all the more exciting because organic objects from this period rarely survive,” Jim Williams, a senior science advisor with Historic England, said in the statement.

“This discovery helps us to imagine what other wooden, plant or animal-based art and sculpture may have been created at this time.”

The artifact is now being preserved and will undergo further examinations. A small, broken-off fragment of the figurine was also found in the ditch; the archaeologists hope to use it to give an accurate radiocarbon date for the wood, while stable isotope analysis of the fragment might reveal where the wood came from.

Roman Mosaic Found Under Street of Hvar in Croatia

Roman Mosaic Found Under Street of Hvar in Croatia

In the Old Town on the Adriatic island of Hvar, Croatia, a Roman mosaic was unearthed beneath a narrow street. The elaborate geometric mosaic floor dates to the 2nd century A.D. and was part of a luxurious Roman villa Urbana.

The site was uncovered in 1923 to construct a canal for rainfall drainage, and the villa’s remnants were discovered two feet below street level.

To safeguard the findings from water intrusion, they were finally covered with slabs and reburied.

The installation of the water drainage system was not completed after the 1923 excavation and increasing problems with penetration from ambient moisture and rising sea levels threaten the survival of the ancient remains of Roman Pharia in Hvar’s historic Old Town.

In the Old Town on the Adriatic island of Hvar, Croatia, a Roman mosaic was unearthed beneath a narrow street.

Residents would like to see the mosaic remain in situ, covered with plexiglass so it can be protected and enjoyed at the same time, but the sea has risen by a foot and a half since the mosaic was created and the street is no longer dry land.

The new water pipe installation is still happening too, and they will be just a few inches above the mosaic.

Work on the opening of the mosaic is carried out on behalf of the Old Town Museum by Dr. Sara Popović and archaeologist Andrea Devlahović.

Archaeologists are presently digging 14 additional sites near the mosaic site in search of further fragments from the villa Urbana, other mosaics, and any archaeological evidence that might identify the structure, or at the very least characterize it as a public or private facility. Officials will have a clearer sense of what to do next after the excavations are finished.

The Museum of the Old Town’s archaeologists has recommended raising the mosaic and transporting it to the museum for long-term conservation and future exhibition.

They’ll replace it with a replica that can be walked on without damage. That proposed solution has to be approved by conservators and heritage officials from Split.

The island was conquered by Rome in the 3rd century BC. Pharos became Pharia, the plain was renamed Ager Pharensis.

At the beginning of the 8th century, the island was penetrated by the Slavs, who took the ancient name for the town and island – Hvar.

The name of Hvar Island comes from the ancient names for today’s Stari Grad – Pharos and Pharia. In the Middle Ages, the name was slavicized to Huarra. With the relocation of the diocese, the name also moved and the old seat became Stari Hvar, and then Stari Grad.

The historic town center of Stari Grad and the cultural landscape of the Stari Grad Plain was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008.

Lavish Roman mosaic is biggest found in London for 50 years

Lavish Roman mosaic is biggest found in London for 50 years

Archaeologists excavating near London Bridge have discovered the largest Roman mosaic to have been unearthed in 50 years. Dating back to the Roman period when the city was called Londinium, it was in the shadow of the Shard skyscraper that archaeologists made what they are calling a “once-in-a-lifetime” discovery.

A report in The Guardian says the mosaic served as a floor inside a triclinium, which was a venue for high-ranking Roman officials to enjoy luxury foods and drinks while chilling on lavish furniture.

The site where the Roman mosaic was discovered in London is located near the Shard skyscraper.

When the Romans invaded England in 43 AD they first landed on the south coast of Kent. From here they sailed up the River Thames and built a settlement and bridge on the north bank where the waterway became narrower.

This is the site of the city’s iconic London Bridge. Having created a port, a network of paved streets and lush stone buildings with mosaic floors they named the settlement Londinium, which would later serve as the administrative capital of Britannia, the Roman name for Britain.

The site is located near the Shard (also referred to as the Shard of Glass), a 72-storey skyscraper that was designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano in Southwark, London. It is thought to have been a staging post for travelers entering or leaving Roman London on the north side of the Thames.

Antonietta Lerz, of the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) said the mosaic, which measures eight meters (26 ft) long, was constructed during the late second century to the early third century AD.

The flowers and geometric patterns on the London mosaic are all still intact and they will be lifted later this year to be preserved, and will eventually be exhibited to the public in London.

The mosaic unearthed in London incorporates flowers geometric patterns and a twisted-rope design.

David Neal is an expert in Roman mosaics . According to Archaeology News Network , Neal said the design of the larger panel was created by a highly-skilled team of mosaicists known as the Acanthus. 

Colorful flowers surrounded by twisted-rope designs are set within a red tessellated floor. Opus tessellatum , in case you are struggling, is the act of covering any surface with a pattern of repeated shapes that fit together without any overlapping or gaps.

The triclinium is thought to have belonged to a Roman mansio and the mosaic was located centrally within a large complex around a central courtyard.

In the Roman Empire, a mansio (place to stay) was an official lodging on a Roman road that was managed by the central government for the use of state officials while travelling to and from Londinium.

Apart from this large Roman mosaic discovered in London , a second large Roman building was unearthed nearby the first in which “lavishly painted walls, terrazzo and mosaic floors , coins and jewelry” were found.

A decorated bronze brooch, a bone hairpin and a sewing needle all informed the MOLA archaeologists that this was the private residence of a wealthy individual or family.

Lerz said all of these finds belonged to “high-status women” who were apparently adhering to the latest “fashions and hairstyles.”

Lers continued to explain that the mosaic was created in “the heyday of Roman London when people were living the good life.”

The mosaic was created 200 years after the famous 61 AD uprising of the Iceni tribe, led by Queen Boudicca , which burnt Londinium to the ground resulting in the death of 30,000 Londoners.

According to Project Britain , with the rebellion quashed Londinium was rebuilt over the next two decades and the population rocketed up to 60,000.

For the next 300 years Londinium represented the largest city in the Roman outpost of Britannia. The main fort was located where the Barbican Center now stands, and a forum (market) and amphitheater are still buried below the Guildhall and Basilica (business center).

But perhaps the Romans greatest architectural achievement was the huge defensive wall they erected around the entire city, to protect the high class elites from further native invasions while they ate and drank the spoils of their invasion.

Skeletons Found Near Dead Sea Scrolls Likely Belonged to an Enigmatic Religious Group

Skeletons Found Near Dead Sea Scrolls Likely Belonged to an Enigmatic Religious Group

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls is regarded as one of the greatest archaeological finds in history. Almost as interesting as the content of the texts themselves has been the question of who created and cared for them.

A recent analysis of skeletons found near the site and dating to the same time period suggests the common assumption of an enigmatic religious group known as the Essenes may be correct.

The belief that people living in Qumran at the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls creation were members of a celibate Jewish sect called the Essenes is one of the earliest and also the most popular.

These men were said to be the creators or caretakers of the famed scrolls. However, IBTimes notes Bedouin herders, craftsmen, and Roman soldiers have also been proposed as possible inhabitants of Qumran at that time.

ScienceNews reports that a recent evaluation of 33 skeletons buried at Qumran supports the popular belief that the community was comprised of religious men. The analysis focused on examining physical factors, including pelvic shape and body sizes, and concluded that it is highly probable only men and children were present at the site.

Three of the skeletons could not be identified as male or female. This is a change from the previous assessment that seven of the skeletons were female.

Skulls found at Qumran.

Radiocarbon dating of one of the Qumran skeleton’s bones places the body at approximately 2,200 years old. This is close to the time when the Dead Sea Scrolls are estimated to have been written – 150 BC to 70 AD.

The estimated age of death for the men ranged from around 20 to 50 years old. The lack of war-related injuries goes against the soldier hypothesis. Anthropologist Yossi Nagar of the Israel Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem said that the men cannot be confirmed as Essenes, but the belief is probable.

Section of the Qumran cemetery.

Judaism that left Jerusalem in protest against the Romans and the way things were happening at the Temple. They apparently went into the desert to follow the orders of the prophet Isaiah. This religious group has often been linked to the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Small samples of bone were removed from some of the Qumran skeletons, so there is a chance that researchers could try to complete DNA analysis and perhaps find more clear evidence of who the people living near the Dead Sea Scrolls were. However, Nagar is uncertain if this type of study will be completed.

Remains of living quarters at Qumran.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 11 caves at Qumran between 1947 and 1956. The set of nearly 1000 manuscripts provide some of the earliest versions of the Hebrew Bible. 

A 12th cave was discovered in February 2017, but only scroll jars, fragments of scroll wrappings, and a piece of worked leather were discovered.

View of the Dead Sea from a Cave at Qumran.

The first Dead Sea Scrolls were found unintentionally by a Bedouin shepherd at a cave in the vicinity of Qumran. As more texts surfaced over the years, several were put on sale on the black market to private buyers.

This issue led the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Heritage Project to excavate in the Judean Desert Caves in 2016 at the Cave of Skulls – a difficult location to reach. Israel Hasson, director-general of the Israel Antiquities Authority, explained the urgency to find the last Dead Sea Scrolls.

A fragment from the Dead Sea Scrolls collection known as the Damascus document.

Archaeologists Uncover an Ancient Roman Game Board at Hadrian’s Wall

Archaeologists Uncover an Ancient Roman Game Board at Hadrian’s Wall

The cracked stone board was likely used to play ludus latrunculorum, Rome’s favorite game.

Life in the Roman legions is often presented as constant excitement, with endless military campaigns subduing people throughout Europe and the Near East. But the truth is Roman soldiers had down time.

The board was likely used in the bath house at Vindolanda, one of 14 forts along Hadrian’s Wall, but was repurposed as a floor stone in the adjacent building after it was broken.

As evidenced by a gridded gaming board recently uncovered during excavations of Hadrian’s Wall, a 73-mile-long fortification in what’s now northern England that once delineated the northern frontier of the Roman Empire, soldiers played games to pass the time.

Tony Henderson at Chronicle Live reports that the cracked stone game board was uncovered late last month while archaeologists excavated a third century building behind the bath house at Vindolanda, one of 14 forts along Hadrian’s Wall. It’s believed that the board was likely used in the bath house, but was repurposed as a floor stone in the adjacent building after it was broken.

It’s unknown how the board was cracked, but a spokesperson for the site tells Henderson it could be a colorful story. “You can almost picture the losing Roman tipping the board up in frustration, causing it to break,” he says.

This is not the only game board found at Vindolanda. Five other boards dating from the third to fifth centuries have been found along with glass and stone gaming tokens.

Construction of Hadrian’s Wall began in 122 A.D. at Roman emperor Hadrian’s behest and took six years to complete. It was the northernmost border of the Roman Empire until 138 A.D., when the emperor Antoninus Pius abandoned it and built a turf wall about 100 miles to the north.

Twenty years later, the Romans had to fall back to Hadrian’s Wall due to attacks by Caledonian tribes. The forts along Hadrian’s Wall were then occupied by Roman forces until around 400 A.D.

So what were soldiers on the frontier playing to pass the time? The grid on the stone is for a game called ludus latrunculorum, translated from Latin as “the game of mercenaries.” While archaeologists have found game boards and pieces at sites all across the Roman Empire, they have yet to figure out exactly how the game is played.

The website Ancient Games reports that ludus is first mentioned in the second century B.C. by the writer Varro who noted that it was a game played on a grid. A poem by an anonymous writer from the first century A.D. provides some details, including the fact that players captured each other’s pieces, moving backward and forward on the board.

Roman poet Ovid reveals that pieces were captured by surrounding an opposing piece with two game tokens. The game appears to be a more sophisticated variation of checkers, but we can only speculate on the official rules of the game.

That hasn’t prevented some game lovers from trying to develop rules from the little we know, and there are even some commercial versions available.

The game board is not the only recent news from Vindolanda, which has been excavated by the Vindolanda Trust since 1970. In that time, researchers have found thousands of artifacts from legionaries, including rare items made of wood and leather that have survived in the area’s mucky, oxygen-free soil.

Most famously, in 1973, archaeologists dug up hundreds of well-preserved wooden writing tablets that give insight into life at the camp for the average soldier as well as information on how the garrison was administered.

The notes include requests for commanders to send their soldiers more beer, a letter from one entrepreneurial civilian brother to another about making some cash off the soldiers, a birthday invitation and a request for a promotion, among other topics.

 Last year, diggers found two sets of rare hipposandals, or iron objects used on the feet of horses, that recently went on display at the site’s Roman Army Museum. It’s not known if they are temporary horseshoes or some sort of restraint. They also found a strange, child-size bronze hand, which was likely part of a cult ritual.

There will undoubtedly be more cool finds, and maybe more game boards. Vindolanda researchers have only excavated about 25 percent of the site. At the current pace, it will take 150 years to unearth the entire area.

The Italian hill made entirely of 53 million Roman olive oil jars

The Italian hill made entirely of 53 million Roman olive oil jars

Monte Testaccio is a mound made up of shards of broken pottery covering about 220,000 square feet, holding 760,000 cubic yards of broken pottery vessels, known as amphorae, which were used to transport olive oil.

Excavations are still in progress, but the most recent finds indicate it may have originated as early as 140 A.D.  Archaeologists agree future excavations could reveal that it could have been even earlier.

Monte dei Cocci

The easternmost side is the oldest of the triangular shaped, terraced mound. Paths were constructed by using smaller shard pieces throughout the four stepped terrace levels to enable the continuation of amphorae disposal and the height of the hill.

Most of the pottery shards are those of a Dressel 20, the one gallon sized amphorae from Baetica in what is now the Guadalquivir region of Spain, but remains from Tripolitania, now Libya, and Byzacena , now Tunisia, have also been found.

broken amphorae at Monte Testaccio

It has been established that these were bulk containers used for shipping olive oil, but why were no other types of shipping containers added to the mound?

Monte Testaccio

The Romans also imported grain and wine, but as of yet, very few of these types of containers have been found. The Dressel 20 amphora did not easily break into the small pieces needed for recycling into concrete, which could be the reason they were simply discarded.

Another possibility is that the residual oil left on the shards would have reacted poorly with the lime content used when making the concrete. José Remesal of the University of Barcelona and co-director of the Monte Testaccio  excavations believes the hill contains the remains of over twenty-five million amphora, and his team is recovering over a ton of pottery every day.

Monte Testaccio, Rome

They are searching for any type of identification that could be stamped, painted or carved into the clay.

Most amphorae used during the time noted the weight, information about where the oil originated and names of the people who bottled and weighed the shipment which is indicative of a stringent inspection system used to control trade.

The empty weight, as well as the full weight, was recorded and the names found give insight into the Roman commercial structure. Many list family businesses such as “the two Aurelii Heraclae, father and son” and “the two Junii, Melissus and Melissa” as well as small groups of men “the partners Hyacinthus, Isidore and Pollio”  and “L. Marius Phoebus and the Vibii, Viator and Retitutus”, who were most likely members of  joint ventures of skilled freedmen.

The team is also able to identify that the state authorized the shipment of the oil and if the oil was for the military or civilian use.The search has already yielded inscriptions indicating oil shipments delivered to the Praefectus Annonae, the leading official of the state run food distribution services. According to Remesal, “There’s no other place where you can study economic history, food production and distribution, and how the state controlled the transport of a product. It’s really remarkable.”

Around the 260s, a new type of amphora was being used and the mound ceased growing.The area was abandoned after the fall of Rome and was used for jousting tournaments and pre-Lent festivals during the Middle Ages, and was still in use for celebrations by the end of the 19th century.

Roman tituli picti from amphorae found at Monte Testaccio, Rome. From H. Dressel, Ricerche sul Monte Testaccio, Annali dell’Instituto di Correspondenza Archeologica

In 1827 Marie-Henri Beyle, a 19th-century French writer known by his pen name, Stendhal, attended a festival at the hill’s summit and had this to say: “Each Sunday and Thursday during the month of October, almost the whole population of Rome, rich and poor, throng to this spot, where innumerable tables are covered with refreshments, and the wine is drawn cool from the vaults.

It is impossible to conceive a more animating scene than the summit of the hill presents.Gay groups dancing the saltarella, intermingled with the jovial circles which surround the tables; the immense crowd of walkers who, leaving their carriages below, stroll about to enjoy the festive scene …”

The New Plan of Rome by Giambattista Nolli

The vaults to which Stendhal refers are excavations made when it was discovered that the porous structure of the interior provided a cooling effect, leading to the construction of wine cellars to keep the drink cool in the warmer months. In 1849 Giuseppe Garibaldi, the commander of an Italian gun battery successfully defended Rome against an attack from the French army at the mound.

Catholics use the hill as a representation of Golgotha, the hill on which Jesus was crucified.The Pope leads a procession to the top of the hill where they place crosses to memorialize those of Jesus and the two thieves crucified with him.

Monte Testaccio

In 1872 German Archaeologist Heinrich Dressel began the first archeological study of Monte Testaccio and published his findings in 1878. Archaeologists Emilio Rodríguez Almeida and José Remesal Almeida also worked at the site during the 1980s.

After World War II developers came in and built middle class homes prompting stores and restaurants to open in the area. Velavevodetto, a popular pizza restaurant, was actually built into the side of the hill.Locals generally don‘t pay much attention to the mound and some don’t even realize the historical significance attached.

Up until August of this year Remesal’s web site was taking applications for twenty-four volunteers at the geological site for two weeks during the month of September and describe the project as “Located in the heart of Rome, the Monte Testaccio project is one of the most important research programs on Roman epigraphy, economy, and commerce today.

The project, overseen by the University of Barcelona and ArchaeoSpain, studies the pottery shards from an artificial mound created by centuries of discarded amphorae‚ many of which still have the maker’s seal stamped on their handles, while others retain markings in ink relating the exporter’s name and indicating the contents, the export controls, and consular date.

Once an ancient pottery dump, Monte Testaccio is now one of the largest archives of Roman commerce in the world.”