New Details on the Seaton Down Hoard

Below: The one millionth object reported to Britain’s Portable Antiquities Scheme.

nummus-in-the-name-of-constantinopolis-millionth-object
nummus-in-the-name-of-constantinopolis-millionth-object

The British Museum has released further details to the Archaeology Hour on the massive Roman Coin hoard found in the UK near Seaton Down with a metal detector in 2013. Vincent Drost, the Museum’s Project Curator for Romano-British coin finds said in a lengthy interview that the coins shed light on the Roman monetary system and the various mints that provided coins to the forces that occupied Britain for five hundred years.

The find was one of the largest hoards of such coins ever found in England—it also contained the one millionth object reported to the country’s “Portable Antiquities Scheme,” a government program at the British Museum to encourage the voluntary recording of archaeological objects found by members of the public in England and Wales.

Laurence Egerton made the find in November of 2013 at Seaton Down in Devon, UK. More than 22,000 coins were unearthed near the site of a Roman fortification and a Roman villa. Since that time the coins have been cleaned and turned over to Dr. Drost for study.

“With more than 22,000 coins, Seaton Down is definitely one of the largest hoards of the 4th Century AD found in Britain. It is also one of the largest hoards of 330s-340s recorded within the Empire, together with another British find, Nether Compton, Dorset, 22,703 coins” said Drost.

“The largest Roman coin hoards from Britain are from the second half of the 3rd century:

  • Cunetio, Wiltshire: 54,951 coins in two vessels.[1]
  • Frome, Somerset: 52,503 coins in a single jar.[2]

According to Drost the coins in the hoard represent the work of many Roman mints throughout the Empire. Just a few of the coins were minted in the UK, the majority were minted in France (Gaul) and Germany (Trier) and even places as far away as Antioch, Turkey and Alexandria, Egypt.

Work on the coin hoard continues at the British Museum, “In the space of a year, the 22,000+ coins were cleaned by Pippa Pearce (Department of Conservation) and fully catalogued by Richard Abdy (Department of Coins & Medals) and myself (Department of Britain, Europe & Prehistory) in the British Museum. A preliminary report is available on the PAS database (finds.org.uk: ref. PAS-D7EA4C). The detailed study is a work in progress. The first results of this study will be presented at the International Numismatic Congress that will be held in Taormina, Italy in September 2015,” said Drost.

The most intriguing question about the hoard still remains unanswered: why were the coins buried?

“The barbarian invasions, among other political troubles, were traditionally blamed to explain hoarding. Ancient texts tell us that Constans (AD 333-350), risking a dangerous winter voyage, paid an unexpected visit to Britain in AD 343. This visit might possibly be related to troubles caused by the Picts on the Northern frontier. But the situation of Seaton, on the South West coast of Britannia, makes this explanation unlikely.

Hoards were also buried during times of monetary reform. The hoarding in Seaton ends with the first issues of the new reverse type VICTORIAE DD AVGGQ NN. Nevertheless, the weight and metal composition of the new coins were similar to that of the previous nummi (reverse type GLORIA EXERCITVS) and there was no reason that we know of to save the older coins.

“A three square meter area around the find spot was exposed but no archaeological remains were discovered. The only significant non-coin objects were three Roman iron ingots arranged on top of the coins. The coins were laid in an isolated pit and were contained in a flexible bag made of textile or leather. The excavation revealed two small bags of concreted coins within the main deposit.

Presently, it is difficult to provide a specific explanation for the burial. The hoard could possibly represent the savings of a private individual, the wages of a soldier or a commercial payment. The possibility of a community ritual deposit could also be considered. We could add that the deposit was planned on the long term as it wouldn’t have been an easy task to unearth those 68 kg of coins stored in a flexible bag,” added Drost.

While the Roman monetary system appears quite sophisticated, the concept of banks did not arise until many centuries later. It seems the actual reason for the deposit, and the reason why it was abandoned, may never be known.

The full audio interview with Dr. Drost will appear in the second half of the Archaeology Hour pilot broadcast to be launched in a few weeks. More photographs of the find and some of the individual coins courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum are posted here.

The archaeology hour podcast can be found at:

http://archaeologyhour.podomatic.com

[1] E. Besly, R. Bland, The Cunetio Treasure. Roman Coinage of the Third Century AD, London, 1983.

[2] S. Moorhead, A. Booth, R. Bland, The Frome Hoard, London, 2010.

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Dark water diving & artifacts on the CSS Georgia

print of the CSS Georgia
Contemporary print of the CSS Georgia (pubic domain)

Archeologists are now working to remove small artifacts and map sections of the wreckage of the massive Confederate Ironclad CSS Georgia in Savannah Harbor prior to heavy lifting operations, expected to be completed by the end of this summer.

According to principal investigator Julie Morgan, an archaeologist with the Corps of Engineers, divers will be working in zero visibility conditions guided by an underwater acoustic positioning system and  “a navigation web of transit lines that helps the diver move around the site.”

Even so diving on the wreck will not be easy or safe. The ship was scuttled by the Confederates as Sherman’s Union forces marched on Savannah on the Georgia coast at the mouth of the Savannah River. The wreckage sat on the edge of the ship channel and has been struck by vessels and dredgers over the years. The protective covering of the upper structure, the casemates, were constructed of railroad iron. Over the years since its sinking, the wreck has become a tangled mess of iron and accumulated debris brought downriver by swift currents.

“The current is abated by diving at slack tide only.  All the divers have extensive experience working in black water environments and work only under the supervision of the Corps’ dive inspector.  Safety is the Corps’ top priority. No more than two divers will be in the water at once for safety reasons,” said Morgan.

effrey Pardee, Panamerican diver tender, examines diver James Duff's equipment and topside air supply during an initial dive event Jan. 22, 2015, on the Savannah River near Old Fort Jackson. Duff, a Panamerican diver and maritime archaeologist, used a rope to connect sections of the CSS Georgia wreck site scuttled on the river floor. A network of ropes connects wreck site artifacts and assists divers to navigate through the murky underwater floor of the Savannah River. CSS Georgia recovery is the first action begun under the construction phase of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Chelsea Smith.)
Jeffrey Pardee, Panamerican diver tender, examines diver James Duff’s equipment and topside air supply during an initial dive event Jan. 22, 2015, on the Savannah River near Old Fort Jackson. Duff, a Panamerican diver and maritime archaeologist, used a rope to connect sections of the CSS Georgia wreck site scuttled on the river floor. A network of ropes connects wreck site artifacts and assists divers to navigate through the murky underwater floor of the Savannah River. CSS Georgia recovery is the first action begun under the construction phase of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Chelsea Smith.)

Once the divers have completed mapping, tagging and recovery operations, the US Navy will recover heavy materials. “The archaeological data recovery phase is expected to last until early summer 2015.  Upon completion of that phase, the US Navy will set up on site to recover ordnance, large artifacts, the casemate sections and miscellaneous railroad iron using large mechanized machinery.  A lift plan that details where cuts will be made, placement of straps and slings, and type of lift structure will be developed for each artifact and casemate section in the next couple of months, ” said Morgan.

According to Ms. Morgan, earlier surveys have been used to plan the operation now underway, “The Georgia has periodically been investigated since the late 1970s as funding became available.  In 1979 a site assessment was conducted to determine the approximate site size and degree of integrity. Ordnance, small artifacts and two cannon were recovered in 1986 by Savannah District after the vessel was damaged by a dredge.  In-situ investigations were conducted in 2003 to fully map the site and document conditions.  Most recently multibeam and sidescan sonar surveys were completed in 2013 to document site changes since 2003.  The results of those surveys provided the base map for the current data recovery effort.  Also in 2013 a small casemate section was recovered during a test recovery exercise.”

It is now believed that nothing of the hull of the Georgia remains. The massive upper works may have crushed the wooden hull beneath it. This, coupled with teredo worm damage in the salty estuarine water, may have resulted in the complete disintegration of the hull. Morgan states: “Studies conducted in the 1970s thought that the hull was buried underneath sediments.  In the 1980s, it was thought to be underneath one of the casemate sections.  In both instances, it was never seen, only THOUGHT to be there.

“It was not until 2003 when Panamerican Consultants, Inc. conducted in-situ investigations and confirmed that there is no indication that any of the hull exists on the site.  This was verified in 2013 by the multibeam and sidescan sonar.  What happened to the hull?  It is difficult to tell.  It has been hypothesized that, if it were fairly intact, it may have been  recovered during the salvage attempt in the late 1860s-1870s.  Alternatively, it could have been badly damaged as a result of the salvage attempt and slowly deteriorated and/or was carried off the site by currents.   Regardless, there are no remains of the hull.  We hope that the edges of the casemate sections and any fasteners will provide clues as to what the hull was like.”

Given the presence of heavy silting and the resulting anaerobic environment, it may be possible that some heavy timbers, such as live oak frames, or the very bottom strakes of the hull, have survived. Whether or not this is so remains to be seen.

The Archaeology Hour asked Morgan about the disposition of any artifacts that might remain in the wreckage. According to Morgan there is no archival record of anything having been removed from the ironclad before it was scuttled. If the ship was abandoned in haste ahead of Sherman’s army, it may therefore contain artifacts.

“The archaeologists are currently recovering small artifacts from the wreck site.  No personal items have been found.  It is unlikely that we will find anything else due to the lack of sediments and the current,” added Morgan.

“The Corps has contracted with Conservation Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University to conserve the artifacts that will be retained for curation and exhibit.  All of the large artifacts, i.e., cannons and power plant parts, as well as ordnance, casemate sections and other small artifacts with unique or diagnostic features will be conserved.  There are no loan agreements in place at this time, but several museums of have expressed interest in exhibiting the artifacts.  Final decisions regarding the disposition of the artifacts will be made by the US Navy as that agency is held accountable for CSS Georgia,” Morgan said. The entire property of the Confederate States of America, especially its fleets and weapons, became the property of the Federal Government following the defeat of the Confederacy.

The Archaeology Hour hopes to broadcast an audio interview with Ms. Morgan in the coming weeks, followed a video segment later in the year.

 

The archaeology hour podcast can be found at:

http://archaeologyhour.podomatic.com

True Armchair Travel

One of the major segments of the Archaeology Hour will be Archaeological Travel. Segment producer Rob Steele will be covering the host of opportunities around the world for tours to archaeological sites from active digs to monuments and sites such as the Egyptian Pyramids. Recently we discovered a different kind of ‘travel’ so compelling that we had to include it in our coverage.

360fied.com is a new site that offers absolutely spectacular photography of major destinations in Egypt. The site allows you to select a given feature — we have a screen shot of the temple of Kalabsha, once located at  Bab al-Kalabsha south of the Aswan Dam. When the dam was built, Germany funded a two year project to re-locate the temple above the waters of Lake Nasser.

Screenshot courtesy of 360fied.com of the Kalabsha Temple. The site offers spectacular 360 degree views of famous sites.
Screenshot courtesy of 360fied.com of the Kalabsha Temple. The site offers spectacular 360 degree views of famous sites.

The temple is a great example of Egyptian architecture in the Nubian region. It was built during the Roman occupation of Egypt in ca. 30 B.C., and features many fine reliefs showing the God Horus – and also inscriptions by Roman Governor Aurelius Besarion in 250 B.C. (it forbids pigs in the temple!). Some five hundred years later the Nubian King Silko recorded his victory in battle over a local tribe, complete with a fine carving of himself in Roman armor and on horseback.

360fied.com has done a remarkable job of recording the Temple and its carving in high res photography. Site navigation allows the viewer to zoom in on features and views, and then make 360 degree turns that gives the viewer the ‘feel’ of standing in the midst of the temple.

The Archaeology Hour is keen to promote travel to historical and archaeological sites–but not everyone can do so. 360fied.com offers an alternative, a rich visual virtual tour of the architectural wonders of Egypt.

Salma ElDardiry, of 360fied.com told the Archaeology Hour, “360fied is a project that is hoping to cover the entire Egyptian historical locations from ancient Egyptian era  and through Greek , Roman , Coptic and Islamic eras of the country. we’re based in Egypt and the main reason we started this website is to make these historical sites available to people from all over the world who will not get a chance to visit them in person. Having the chance to travel around the world for more archaeological sites is one of the goals of the project but that is linked to our ability to get some funding for this kind of work.”

We certainly hope 360fied.com does expand its coverage to other world heritage sites. If the Egyptian photography is anything to go by it will offer stunning visual access to these sites to generations of ‘visitors’ who might otherwise never be exposed to these ancient wonders – and the need to preserve them.

The Archaeology Hour will report on new sites added to 360fied’s portfolio as they come online.

Please visit them at www.360fied.com.

 

 

 

Revealed: The Fate of H.M.S. Erebus

CHS_Picture10-caption_sm
Multibeam image of HMS Erebus produced by the Canadian Hydrographic Service. The ship image is false-coloured using different palettes in order to highlight key features, depth and shape of the shipwreck located in Queen Maud Gulf. Image is generated with the ship’s bow facing south-east in direction. (Canadian Hydrographic Service)

It was in the midst of the great age of British exploration. Sir John Franklin, aboard the H.M.S. Erebus and followed by the H.M.S. Terror, set out to find a north west passage from the Atlantic through the Arctic to the Pacific. The ships and their entire crews were never to be seen again.

Last Night Marc-Andre Bernier of Parks Canada and Douglas Stenton of the Government of Nunavut, Canada’s largest northern territory, fully revealed the details of the recent discovery of the Erebus. The ill-fated ship was recently found resting in waters of Queen Maud Gulf.

Many expeditions were sent to learn the fate of the two ships. Over the years a trickle of information revealed that the desperate crews struggled to survive in the hard Arctic environment on Beechey Island near the frozen ships. Some even attempted a desperate trek south.

 

Sir John Franklin (Public Domain)
Sir John Franklin (Public Domain)

Searchers found the Beechey Island Camp – and a few graves. Franklin, a note said, had died in 1847.

The misery of the ships prevailed into modern times with some details gleaned from Beechey Island and much more learned from local Inuits who preserved an oral tradition concerning the location of the ships. Using this information a consortium of groups led by the Government of Nunavut and Parks Canada found the Erebus in September of last year.

Last night’s presentation and Internet forum revealed more details of the discovery. The Erebus lies in 33 feet of water, its massive hull damaged by centuries of Arctic winters. The hulls of both ships would have been eventually crushed by the ice. Once beneath the surface, a five foot cap of surface ice would have demolished the superstructure.

Astern of the wreck, Parks Canada underwater archaeologist Filippo Ronca measures the muzzle bore diameter of one of two cannons found on the site, serving to identify this gun as a brass 6-pounder.  @ Thierry Boyer / Parks Canada
Astern of the wreck, Parks Canada underwater archaeologist Filippo Ronca measures the muzzle bore diameter of one of two cannons found on the site, serving to identify this gun as a brass 6-pounder.
@ Thierry Boyer / Parks Canada

According to Bernier, the wreck is in a state of excellent preservation, the dark, cold water serving to preserve timbers and organics. While the exterior of the hull has been surveyed, divers have yet to enter the wreck–filled with everything needed to help the crews survive the harsh conditions. Unfortunately cans of tinned food contained high levels of lead and the water purification system may also have added to the lead poisoning. Many of the men appear to have died from scurvy, tuberculosis and lead poisoning.

The next field season on the wreck –and the continuing search for the H.M.S. Terror–will begin in July when the winter ice over the site begins to thaw. The Archaeology Hour will bring you an interview with Marc-Andre Bernier and with Doug Stenton during its broadcast after the Pilot Show due to air in March.

The detached ship’s bell of HMS Erebus as found on the deck.  © Parks Canada / Thierry Boyer
The detached ship’s bell of HMS Erebus as found on the deck.
© Parks Canada / Thierry Boyer
Parks Canada’s Ryan Harris (left) and Jonathan Moore (middle) examine the ship’s bell with Government of Nunavut archaeologist Dr. Douglas Stenton (right).  © Parks Canada / Thierry Boyer
Parks Canada’s Ryan Harris (left) and Jonathan Moore (middle) examine the ship’s bell with Government of Nunavut archaeologist Dr. Douglas Stenton (right).
© Parks Canada / Thierry Boyer

Pilot on Track for March

The Pilot for The Archeology Hour is on track as we schedule interviews with archaeologists and investigators as far afield as Egypt, Italy, Sweden. the UK and the US. In addition new segment producers (upcoming announcement) are working on news and features on archaeological travel, major museum exhibits around the world, archaeological volunteer projects and reviews of major new historical and archaeological books. Our first book will be “The Lost Papers of John Bell Hood” by author Sam Hood from Savas-Beatie and hailed as having major revelations on the history of America’s Civil War.

Planned for the pilot and upcoming broadcasts will be news direct from the archaeologist in charge of an exciting new discovery at Sheikh Abd el-Gourna in Egypt. There two archaeologists have discovered a complex of tombs beneath a smaller tomb found in 1887. The early explorer missed a maze of chambers and shafts designed to mirror the legend of Osiris, the Egyptian god of the underworld. Mila Sosa and Irene Morfini sent the last season completing a pre-disturbance survey of the complex, recording wall inscriptions, a statue of the God Osiris and the remains of numerous mummies destroyed and tons apart by early tomb robbers. In an upcoming interview, Morfini will discuss the upcoming season starting on October. This will mark the beginning of excavations inside the tomb complex and we will learn how the two archaeologists plan to proceed.

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Irene Morfini: The Min Project
mila_small
Mila Sosa: The Min Project

In the UK we will be talking to Vincent Drost, the Project Curator of the  Romano-British coin finds at the  Department of Coins & Medals at the British Museum. He is studying the Seaton Down Hoard – a massive cache of Roman coins found by a metal detectorist last year. The dates on the coins cover a hundred year period and were buried long before the Romans left Britain and viking and saxon hordes–which raises  many questions. Why were they buried? Who buried them. Why would they have been saved over such a long period of time?

Some of the Roman coins being studied, cleaned and evaluated by Drost. Source: The British Museum
Some of the Roman coins being studied, cleaned and evaluated by Drost. Source: The British Museum

In the US we will be looking at the recovery of the CSS Georgia, a Confederate gun boat sunk on the edge of the channel into the harbor at Savannah Ga. This is a daunting project. Over the past forty years the archaeologists with the US Army Corps of Engineers have dived on the wreckage to study it and gather information on its eventual removal. The wreck is mass of tangled iron and debris accumulated over the hundred and fifty years since it was scuttled by retreating Confederates.

The massive ship was built in Savannah with $115,000 raised by the “Ladies Gunboat Association.”  The hull was 120 feet long and its armor was made from railroad ties and a cladding of railroad iron. The 1,200 ton proved far too massive for its engines–so the Confederates was moored of Fort Jackson below Savannah as a gun platform. By the 1980s, when Archaeology Hour producer Mark Newell dived on the wreck it was a tangled mass of distorted iron and smashed lumber. “I would grade it as one of the most dangerous wreck dives in the Savannah River, “said Newell. “No wonder the Corps has waited until now to tackle it.”

The Corps will remove the wreck as part of a harbor and channel expansion project. The work will be under the supervision of Corps archaeologist Julie Morgan. Corps spokesman Billy Birdwell tells the Archaeology Hour, “We have begun to remove some pieces of the wreck and some loose material around it. The main work will take some time.” We hope to bring you an interview with Julie Morgan in the near future and will post video on our YouTube Channel.

The CSS Georgia as it looked shortly after its launch (COE)
The CSS Georgia as it looked shortly after its launch (Coe, Today).

Metal of the Gods

orichalucum-ingots

Ingots of Orichalcum Source: Daily Mail

According to Professor Sebastiano Tusa, an archaeologist at the office of the Superintendent of the Sea in Sicily, an archaeological team working on an ancient wreck off the southern coast of Sicily has raised a large number of ingots of a rare metal known as orichalcum – a substance mentioned by Plato as the legendary sacred metal used in Atlantis to sheath the walls of temples. Media reports do not quote Tusa as explaining why or how the encrusted ingots are being identified as Orichalcum.

AtlantisDiveTeam

The Italian dive team on the orichalcum wreck: Source Daily Mail.

 The find was made in little more than 10 ft of water some 1000 feet from the shoreline of the town of Gela in southern Sicily. Analysis of the metal shows that it is an alloy of copper, zinc, lead, iron and nickel. Ancient accounts describe orichalcum as an alloy of silver gold and possibly copper–and for this reason the identification of the ingots has yet to be fully explained. The Archaeology Hour is seek an interview with Prof. Tusa and these questions may be answered then.

Osiris Tomb Excavation in October

 

AmenhotepArcher

The Spanish-Italian archaeological team working on the ‘newly’ discovered Osiris Tomb in Egypt will be returning to the site in October to begin excavation.

Irene Morfini, Assistant Director for the project told The Archaeology Hour in a recent interview: “Since this one was our second season of work, we are still inspecting, photographing, recording data, copying texts, conserving and restoring. During the next season we will hopefully start the proper excavation work.”

The Osiris tomb complex is a previously undiscovered part of a much smaller tomb that was first documented in the 19th century. A  new complex of shafts, tunnels and chambers was discovered by the Sosa-Morfini team recently. The complex forms a representation of the underworld – ruled by the god Osiris. The original occupant of the tomb is unknown but, according to Morfini, many other burials were placed in the complex over time.

Early on in its history the tomb was robbed. It is now filled with debris from falling walls and ceilings, with fragments of mummies torn apart by thieves, and the original material backfilled by the original builders.

Under the Direction of María Milagros Álvarez Sosa and Morfini the crew will excavate stratigraphically (as opposed to 10cm increments as some archaeologists do) and gradually unravel the mysteries of the Osiris Tomb.

 CTAM_Min Project_TT109_14-12-2013

Sosa and Morfini Source: The Min Project

During the summer months (when it is too hot to excavate underground in Egypt) the team will work on the data recovered during the pre-disturbance survey. Interesting facts are already emerging. The tomb complex includes a burial chamber for Min, the tutor of Amenhotep II. Min was the mayor of Thimis, and an important figure during the reign of Thutmose III, Amenhotep’s father. One of his many titles included “Overseer of the Army of the Western River.”  This implies some level of military background.

Amenhotep’s tomb was discovered many years ago and it’s walls recorded the young king’s prowess as an archer. He claimed he could shoot an arrow through a “palm’s thickness” of copper. This was long considered to be a boast and discounted by earlier Egyptologists. Now, the Sosa-Morfini team’s findings show that Amenhotep was tutored by a military leader—so perhaps the claim is not such a boast after all.

We will feature a live interview with Irene Morfini in the pilot program of The Archaeology Hour to be launched in a few weeks.

Min-sitting_redraw

The young Amernhotep II on the knee of his tutor Min: Drawing by  Raffaella Carrera. Min Project.

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