Royal Celtic burial site uncovered in France

Archaeologists uncovered the tomb dating from the fifth century BC in an industrial zone in the small town of Lavau, in France’s Champagne region. Inrap, which routinely scours construction sites in order to find and preserve the country’s archaeological heritage, began excavating at Lavau site in October 2014.

A 40-metre-wide burial mound of the Celtic ruler crowns a larger funeral complex, which archaeologists said preceded the royal’s final resting place, and could have first been built during the Bronze Age.

The prince was buried with his prized possessions, which archaeologists said were still being unearthed.

The most exciting find has been a large bronze-decorated cauldron that was used to store watered-down wine. Inrap said it appears to have been made by Etruscan craftsmen in what is now northern Italy.

Buried inside the cauldron was a surprisingly-well preserved ceramic wine pitcher made by Greeks.

The pieces “are evidence of the exchanges that happened between the Mediterranean and the Celts,” Inrap president Dominique Garcia recently told journalists on a field visit.

Garcia said the end of the sixth and beginning of the fifth centuries BC were characterised by the rise of Etruscan and Greek city states like Marseille in southern France.

Mediterranean merchants, seeking slaves, metals and other precious goods, opened trading channels with continental Celts, and often presented ornate goods as “a kind of diplomatic gifts” to local leaders, Garcia said.

View high-res image slideshow here.

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Ancient Gallic horns discovered in France

From TheGuardian:

In the Asterix books, Cacofonix the bard is forbidden to sing because his voice causes wild boar, villagers, Normans and Romans alike to flee. But Cacofonix does play the carnyx, a long, slender trumpet-like instrument decorated with an animal’s head at the top end, and used by the Celts in the last three centuries BC.

The Greek historian Polybius (206-126BC) was so impressed by the clamour of the Gallic army and the sound of the carnyx, he observed that, “there were countless trumpeters and horn blowers and since the whole army was shouting its war cries at the same time there was such a confused sound that the noise seemed to come not only from the trumpeters and the soldiers but also from the countryside which was joining in the echo“.

When the remains of seven carnyx were unearthed recently, Christophe Maniquet, an archaeologist at Inrap, the national institute for preventive archaeological research (Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives), was curious to find out exactly what sound it produced when it drove the Romans mad, or was used to call upon the god Toutatis.

In 2004, more than 500 iron and bronze items placed as offerings to the gods were discovered a small 30cm-deep pit in Tintignac, in the Corrèze department. “These items were deliberately damaged so that they could not be used again by mere mortals,” said Maniquet.

Some 40 fragments were identified as being parts of a carnyx, making it possible to restore a tall, 1.8-metre-long instrument with a stylised boar head at the top – a first in archaeology. “Some carnyx pieces were discovered in England, Scotland, Germany and Italy, mainly in the 19th century, but the context was unclear and we have never found so many instruments in one go,” said Maniquet. The carnyx is a wind instrument, part of a sub-family of brass instruments defined by the presence of a mouthpiece. The sub-sub family would be natural brass instruments without valves. With its conical shape the carnyx resembles a soft brass instrument like the horn, with a more muffled sound than a cylindrical trumpet-like brass instrument.

Unfortunately since it was impossible to play the instruments the pious Gauls had so carefully dismantled, Maniquet asked an instrument maker to reproduce a brass carnyx of the same size. The archaeologist worked with experts from the acoustics laboratory at the Maine-CNRS University in Le Mans, headed by Joël Gilbert, a brass instruments specialist, who carried out an in-depth analysis of the specimen.

A study presented by a group of researchers and instrument makers in Le Mans last month, revealed that the resonance frequency determined the series of playable notes. In a well-designed instrument this resembles a harmonic series. If the musician had the base note he could easily produce others (mainly octaves, fifths and thirds), by modulating air flow and lip tension.

Leichestown Deskford carnyx & reconstruction. Museum of Scotland.

The carnyx has a fairly low base note because of its length but researchers found that the resonance frequencies obtained with the copy of the carnyx were far from harmonic. According to Gilbert, when he and his colleagues looked into this they suddenly had an idea. “The carnyx is not a primitive instrument and it was known for being very powerful. We therefore worked on the hypothesis that our copy was incomplete,” he said.

Maniquet believes that is quite plausible, especially since no one is really sure how the mouthpiece connects to the tube. The acoustics experts have pursued their research by doing simulations with a mathematical model, this time adding an additional part to a virtual carnyx. They tested two lengths, 10cm and 20cm, which produced a lower sound and altered the resonance harmony.

The simulations showed that the optimum length was achieved by adding a 10cm part, which could match an item in the catalogue of finds from the Tintignac site. Maniquet is now planning to build a second prototype instrument to include the additional 10cm. “That should make this carnyx more powerful and easier to play,” said Gilbert, confident that his calculations are correct.

Cacofonix can remain gagged; it seems that relief is on its way.

The symbol or Rome – a medieval replica?

From The Telegraph:

The bronze statue, which encapsulates the mythical origins of the Eternal City, is one of the star attractions in Rome’s Capitoline Museums and is reproduced on countless T-shirts, key rings and postcards.

It has always been claimed that it was forged in the fifth century BC during the Etruscan era, which predated the Roman republic and empire.

Five years ago it was subjected to carbon dating testing, which suggested that it may have been made during the Middle Ages.

But curators said the tests were inconclusive and the museum continued to insist that the wolf was an Etruscan creation dating back two-and-a-half millennia.

But the controversy was reignited yesterday, with scholars saying that in all probability it dates from the 13th century, amid suspicions that the museum disregarded the original carbon dating tests in order to preserve the potency and romance of Rome’s most abiding symbol.

“It’s a medieval work but that takes nothing away from its importance,” said Adriano La Regina, an expert on Etruscan culture from Rome’s La Sapienza University.

“From the 1700s onwards, it has been considered Etruscan. But with new studies and the carbon tests, the dating has changed.”

Experts said the wolf was made from a single cast, using a technique which was not known to the Etruscans or Romans, who would have had to forge separate pieces and then solder them together.

The museum reluctantly announced that it would amend an information plaque to reflect the renewed doubts over the wolf’s age and provenance.

“Besides the current dating, which claims that the statue was created in the fifth century BC, we’ll include the theory that it may have been made during the medieval era,” said a statement from Rome’s archaeology and heritage department.

Umberto Broccoli, a senior heritage official, said some scholars still believed the wolf was of Etruscan origin.

He said that during the Middle Ages the symbol of Rome was a lion, making it unlikely that there would have been much call for a she-wolf statue. Historians say it may have been based on an original which was cast in bronze in Constantinople in 1204, during the Fourth Crusade, but which was then lost or melted down.

According to legend, Romulus and Remus were the sons of a Vestal Virgin raped by the god Mars. They were then abandoned on the banks of the Tiber.

They were rescued by a shepherd and suckled by a she-wolf. Romulus eventually murdered his brother and went on to found Rome.

The statue includes cherub-like figures of Romulus and Remus suckling from the wolf, but they were added in the late 15th century.

Rome wants the “looted” Etruscan artefacts back from UK

Ministers have been condemned for forcing through the sale of up to 1,000 antiquities allegedly stolen from Italy, in order to pay the debts of a bankrupt private collector.

The Home Office has sparked outrage by allowing Roman bronzes, Etruscan gold and other treasures to be placed on the market by liquidators acting for the government in an attempt to recover unpaid taxes from the former owner, Robin Symes, a dealer with alleged links to the smuggling trade and a UK prison record.

Lord Renfrew, a Cambridge archaeologist, described the handling of the case as a “scandal” and called for action to end London’s reputation as “a clearing-house for looted antiquities”.

The controversy comes after officials from 20 countries met last week in Egypt to discuss how to recover ancient treasures that may have been stolen or looted. Britain has been involved in long disputes with Egypt and Greece over artefacts held in the British Museum.

In documents seen by the Observer, Paolo Giorgio Ferri, the relevant prosecutor in Rome, has repeatedly asked Britain to return the Symes antiquities to their “rightful owner”. The UK government has caused fury by stating that the antiquities could instead be bought.

Lord Renfrew

Symes’s collection includes objects dating back 3,000 years, which Rome says form a vital part of Italian heritage. Ferri said: “It’s like the Italian government making a profit from the mafia selling drugs.”

Renfrew said: “These illicitly exported objects are being sold to pay Robin Symes’s debts, which means that they are being sold for the benefit of the British government. This does reflect unfavourably on the British Treasury and Revenue and Customs, as they are encouraging the sale of material that the Italians say is looted.

“Many of the antiquities are Etruscan and could only have been found in Italy. They left Italy illegally because they would require an export licence. I can’t see how the Home Office can dispute that.”

The Italians said that requests to the Home Office asking for details on how the antiquities arrived in Britain, which must be given under international law, have been frustrated by “unhelpful”, delaying responses. For its part, the Home Office has asked Italy for evidence that the artefacts “were in fact stolen”.

The Symes treasures include Etruscan gold and amber necklaces, lead figures of warriors and a bronze mask of Acheloos, a river deity. There is also an Attic cup decorated with dolphins and a Roman bronze statuette of a bull. Many are still soil-encrusted, a sign of recent illegal digs, according to the Italians. Some belong to important known pieces in Italy and offer “evidence” of smuggling. One of the fragments with the liquidators comes from a looted vase that has been returned to Italy by the Getty Museum – “an absurd situation”, as they belong together, Ferri said.

The collection is expected to raise well over £100,000.

Fabio Isman, an Italian authority on looted art, said: “These objects were excavated illegally and are now being sold. It’s terrible – terrible for culture and for the country from where the objects came. It’s a scandal.”

A controversial figure, Symes built up a dealing company once valued at £125m. Selling antiquities to collectors and museums, including the Getty in Los Angeles, he lived a life of luxury. He went bankrupt after a legal dispute with the family of his late business partner. Aged 65, Symes was sentenced to two years in prison in 2005 by a high court judge.

The liquidator, BDO Stoy Hayward, declined to comment. A Home Office spokesman said its policy is “to neither confirm nor deny the existence of a request to the UK, or to comment [on it]”.

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Italian court demands Getty Museum return ancient statue

The Los Angeles museum said it would appeal the decision to Italy’s highest court and would “vigorously defend” its right to keep the bronze.

The “Victorious Youth” statue, which dates from 300-100BC, was pulled from the sea by Italian fishermen in 1964 off the eastern town of Fano, near Pesaro.

The Italian government, which has been on an international campaign to reclaim looted antiquities, says it was brought into Italy and then exported illegally.

The Getty Museum maintains Italy has no claim to the bronze and says it bought the statue in good faith in 1977 for $4 million (£2.5m).

In announcing its appeal, the Getty Museum said the ruling by the Pesaro court was flawed procedurally and substantively, noting that a previous case involving the statue was thrown out after the judge held, among other things, that the statute of limitations had expired.

“In fact, no Italian court has ever found any person guilty of any criminal activity in connection with the export or sale of the statue,” the museum said in a statement.

The statue, nicknamed the “Getty Bronze,” is a signature piece for the museum.

Though the artist is unknown, some scholars believe it was made by Lysippos, Alexander the Great’s personal sculptor.

In recent years Italy has successfully won back artefacts it says were looted or stolen from the country and sold to museums and private collections worldwide.

In 2007, the Getty, without admitting any wrongdoing, agreed to return 40 ancient treasures in exchange for the long-term loans of other artefacts. Similar deals have been reached with other museums.

Under the 2007 deal, the two sides agreed to postpone further discussion of “Victorious Youth” until the court case was decided.

The Culture Ministry hailed Thursday’s ruling with “great satisfaction” and said it hoped it would lead to serious reflection on the part of the Getty about returning the statue.

The bronze is believed to have sunk with the ship that was carrying it to Italy after the Romans conquered Greece.

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