Thursday, 15 November 2012

Golden news

The recent weeks have seen a series of archaeological news in the national or international arena. These news do not have much common – naturally, apart from being the results of an archaeological digs. We have seen gold from Bulgaria, mammoth bones from France and a giant from Rome. The most glittering of these is of course – both literately and actually – are the golden objects from a tomb in Bulgaria. These Thracian finds have promptly connected with Alexander the Great. It seems to be all in the family!

One of Thracian objects (link to Daily Mail Online)

The site of the ancient Getic burial complex, in the past area of the Gaths, situated near the village of Sveshtari, approximately 400 kilometres northeast from Sofia. The gold came from the largest of 150 burials. These finds could be, as suggested by Diana Gergova, the chief archaeologist at the site, related to the funeral of the Gath ruler Kotela, one of the father-in-laws of Philip II of Macedon, Alexander the Great's father. It seems the lure of finding the known named persons from the past is alive and well.

Digging 'Helmut'

The mammoth was found near Paris in France while the archaeologists were excavating ancient Roman remains in a quarry near the town of Changis-sur-Marne. The mammoth has been promptly named ‘Helmut’. Mammoth finds are not that rare; the distribution and extinction of this animal has been studied with the finds from Scandinavia and Estonia and Helmut was the fourth almost full mammoth skeleton from France alone. However, Helmut was definitely in contact with humans as suggested by the flint implements found at the same location. Two tiny flint flakes were found among the bones indicating that cavemen cut into the body, but clearly did not kill the animal with these pieces. Nevertheless, these finds are evidence of mammoth – human interaction 100 000 – 200 000 years ago. The chief archaeologist Gregory Bayle says: “We're working on the theory that Neanderthal men came across the carcass and cut off bits of meat.”

A bone with gigantism from Fidenae (by Simona Minozzi, Endocrine Society)

National Geographic has published the oldest skeleton find with gigantism, the condition that makes the sufferer to grow into a considerable height. The skeleton was excavated already in 1991 from Fidenae, one of the modern suburbs of Rome that was the location of one Archaic Latin cities. This skeleton has only been properly studied recently. Nevertheless, this area had a considerable rural settlement in the Roman period and as it was located on the Via Salaria its probable roadside or villa location was a natural choice for a Roman cemetery. He was 202 cm tall – approximately 35 cm taller than his average contemporaries in the 3rd century AD.

These are all exotic, attractive finds that feed anyone’s imagination. However, there is a serious scientific content with each news item, be it the interregional contacts between the Mediterranean and the other areas, the human – animal interaction or the history of human pathology. In these days Twitter and Facebook deliver the news even wider than the traditional newspapers and broadcasting companies. While trying to find out, if Priddy Circles had been discussed in Twitter, I found a plethora of retweeted tweets with the Roman giant instead.

Mammoths in Sweden: Ukkonen, L. Arppe, M. Houmark-Nielsen, K.H. Kjær, J.A. Karhu: ‘MIS 3 mammoth remains from Sweden—implications for faunal history, palaeoclimate and glaciation chronology’, Quaternary Science Reviews, Volume 26, Issues 25–28, December 2007, 3081–3098
Mammoths in Estonia: Lougas, P. Ukkonen, H. Junger: ‘Dating the extinction of European mammoths: new evidence from Estonia’, Quaternary Science Reviews, Volume 21, Issues 12–13, July 2002, 1347–1354

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