Face of Scythian warrior revealed

The Scythian man’s face, showing a scar from his eye socket to his jaw. Photograph: British Museum
The Scythian man’s face, showing a scar from his eye socket to his jaw.
Photograph: British Museum

The real face concealed by a clay mask on the mummified head of a Scythian warrior has been revealed for the first time in almost 2,000 years. The head is on display in an exhibition opening at the British Museum along with the scan, made in a St Petersburg hospital, which reveals that he had fine teeth, a ginger moustache, a pierced ear, a hole in his skull where his brains had been removed, and a savage wound, beautifully stitched and healed, which originally ran from the corner of his eye socket to the point of his jaw.

Since the real head closely resembles the painted mask, the curator St John Simpson assumes that the faintly smiling mask of a young woman beside him, which has yet to be scanned, is also based on her appearance in life.

Her body was found lying beside his in a timber-lined tomb chamber, and she almost certainly did not die a natural death.

Dr Svetlana Pankova with the head as it is scanned in St Petersburg. Photograph: British Museum

The Greek historian Herodotus left vivid accounts of the nomadic Scythian horsemen and archers who terrorised their neighbours from an empire stretching for centuries from the Black Sea to the borders of China. His stories, often doubted, have been vindicated by recent archaeological finds, and he wrote that when a princely warrior died, a concubine was often chosen to accompany him to the grave, along with servants and horses.

“Herodotus says garrotting was used, so that would have been relatively quick and merciful,” Simpson said. “The horses we find in tombs were usually killed by a single blow between the eyes from a pointed battle axe – quite humane, like a captive bolt for a fallen race horse – so that could be another consideration.” He added hopefully: “We do also have to remember that people really do die of a broken heart.”

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The man’s clay mask. Photograph: British Museum

The scans were completed and processed so recently that they were seen for the first time in London by the Russian curators who accompanied the spectacular loans from the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg, including some of the first superb golden belt buckles and dress ornaments collected in the 17th century by Peter the Great.

The exhibition, Scythians: Warriors of Ancient Siberia, also has loans from the new National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan, and the Ashmolean and the Royal Collection in the UK.

The nomads had no writing and built nothing permanent except their tombs, but fortunately buried everything from their world for the dead to use in the next. The displays include not just the superb golden ornaments and metal work including weapons and utensils, but, astonishingly preserved by the permafrost of Siberia, furs, textiles, wooden furniture and containers, tattooed human skin, horse harnesses and saddles, the oldest pair of chopsticks ever found outside China, and two lumps of cheese.

Their luxury imports from China included beautiful silks so precious that even scraps were carefully kept and re-used, including a piece used to trim a child’s quiver of arrows, found with the masked mummies in the Oklakhty burial ground in southern Siberia. There was also a tiny sheepskin coat, on which the man’s head was pillowed.

The same tomb held two even more eerie objects, which Simpson hoped to borrow for the exhibition: literally straw men, two life-size stuffed effigies, with clay masks similar to those on the real heads. They were too fragile to travel, and are still being studied – but the first x-rays suggest they contain cloth bags of cremated human remains, presumably carried on horseback across the plains until they could be added to the bodies lying in the family tomb.

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A gold plaque depicting a Scythian rider with a spear, part of the exhibition. Photograph: V Terebenin/The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

“When I saw them lying in a dimly lit room in St Petersburg, and one of the curators lifted the head – shedding bits of straw – to look at me, it was an image straight out of some Hollywood horror movie,” Simpson recalled. “I put the photograph on my office door as a way of saying ‘keep away from here’ in the last three weeks I was working flat out trying to get the catalogue finished – it was very effective.”

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114 new terracotta warriors unearthed in Xi’an

View of the largest excavation pit of the Terracotta Army

From China Daily:

A company of Terracotta Warriors – most painted in rich colors – have been unearthed at the largest pit within the mausoleum complex of the emperor who first unified China.

A total of 114 Terracotta Warriors have been found at No 1 pit, one of three, where excavation started in June last year, said Xu Weihong, head of the excavation team…

[Read the rest of the article here.]

51 young males identified as brutally slain Vikings

The decapitated skeletons—their heads stacked neatly to the side—were uncovered in June 2009 in a thousand-year-old execution pit near the southern seaside town of Weymouth. (VSLM kept up to date and featured one of the first news here)

Already radio-carbon dating results released in July had shown the men lived between A.D. 910 and 1030, a period when the English fought—and often lost—battles against Viking invaders.
But until now it hadn’t been clear who the headless bodies had belonged to.

Analysis of teeth from ten of the dead—who were mostly in their late teens and early 20s—indicates the raiding party had been gathered from different parts of Scandinavia, including one person thought to have come from north of the Arctic Circle.

The new study, led by Jane Evans of the U.K.’s NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory, investigated telltale chemical markers called isotopes, which can reveal a person’s geographic origins.

Oxygen isotopes from drinking water, for example, become fixed in people’s teeth as they age. Since isotope ratios vary with climate, Evans could tell that the had all been raised in much cooler regions than Britain.

“The values these individuals gave us could not be British,” Evans said, but the ratios do match those from Norway and Sweden.

In addition, nitrogen-isotope readings showed the men enjoyed a meaty, high-protein diet—similar to readings from remains from the same period found in Sweden.

“What’s fascinating about these findings is that Vikings are renowned for their pillaging, ransacking, and raping,” Evans said.
“But here we’ve got real evidence that it was the other way round: Anglo-Saxons rounded up these Vikings and executed them.”

Vikings Found With Hacked Heads, Naked Bodies

Many of the skeletons have deep cut marks to the skull, jaw, and neck. This suggests the men were war captives whose heads were savagely hacked off, said David Score of Oxford Archaeology, leader of the preconstruction survey that found the Vikings’ execution pit.

“The majority seem to have taken multiple blows,” he noted.

Other injuries hint that some of the slaughtered attempted to shield themselves from their executioners’ blows. For instance, the hand of one victim had its fingers sliced through, Score said.

The heads were neatly piled to one side of the pit, perhaps as a victory display.

Unusually, no trace of clothing has been found, indicating the men were buried naked.

Even if only their weapons and valuables had been taken, “we should have found bone buttons and things like that, but to date we’ve got absolutely nothing,” Score said.
Aside from their injuries, the headless Vikings “look like a healthy, robust, very strong, very masculine group of young males,” he added. “It’s your classic sort of warrior.”

Vikings Forced to Surrender?

The burial’s prominent location on a hilltop by the ancient main road to Weymouth also points to the victims being Vikings, Score said.

“Locations like this are classic sites for executions [by British-born warriors] in late Saxon and medieval times,” he said. “If you’re a Viking raider, you’re much more likely to leave people where you killed them in the town or on the beach.”

What’s more, the new isotope findings suggest that the slain men had much more diverse origins than would be expected among soldiers from the Saxons’ other enemies, such as ethnic Danes in northern Britain, tooth-study leader Evans noted.

Even before the new results were released, Kim Siddorn, author of Viking Weapons and Warfare, had thought the dead were Vikings.

“They had left their ship, walked inland, ran into an unusually well-organized body of Saxons, and were probably forced to surrender,” Siddorn speculated in July.

Despite the Vikings’ brutal reputation, there was actually little to differentiate Vikings and early English warriors on the battlefield, said Siddorn, also a founder of Regia Anglorum, a historical-reenactment society.

“You would find it very difficult to tell the difference between a Viking and a Saxon if they stood in front of you in war gear,” he said. Both used spears as their primary weapons, with swords and axes as backups, Siddorn added.

But Vikings usually had surprise and, in some cases, numbers on their side. “Whilst the Vikings were no better than the Saxons at fighting, they did come by the shipload,” he said.

“During the height of the Viking raids, it’s reasonable to say it was unsafe to live anywhere within 20 miles [32 kilometers] of the coast.”

SOURCE

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Yorkshire discovery sheds new light on the Battle of Fulford

It seems that lessons could perhaps be learnt from the Vikings after the intriguing discovery in Yorkshire of what is believed to be a metal recycling centre dating back to the 11th century.

Historians and metal detector enthusiasts have made the find which is being heralded as evidence of how the Norse invaders recycled their fearsome array of weapons.

Hundreds of pieces of metal including arrowheads, shards of swords and axe heads have been unearthed as part of a 10-year research project to establish the exact location of the Battle of Fulford which took place on September 20, 1066.

The battle on the outskirts of York, when the invading Viking army, led by Harald Hardrada, triumphed over the English forces, is seen as crucial in the run-up to the Battle of Hastings and William the Conqueror ultimately being crowned King of England.

Historians have attempted to pinpoint the location of the battlefield as campaigners tried to halt a new development of 720 homes at Fulford.

Now more than 1,000 pieces of metal have been unearthed by members of the York Metal Detectorists Club, who have been helping to gather evidence during the decade-long study.

X-rays of the finds are being taken at York University’s archaeology department at King’s Manor in an attempt to glean more information about their history and prove the location of the battle.

Historian Chas Jones, who has been leading the research, said: “We found several smithing hearth bottoms – the remains of the molten metal which dribbles down during the reprocessing of weaponry ironwork.

“You could say this was one of the first metal recycling centres.”

The plans for the 720-home Germany Beck scheme sparked opposition from academics and historians, who have claimed that the development could actually be built on the site of the Battle of Fulford.

But the developers remain adamant that the land is not where the battle took place, and have carried out their own archaeological studies of the site.

Following a public inquiry, ministers ruled that there was insufficient evidence the Germany Beck site was the location, although they admitted that archaeological finds unearthed there were of “regional importance”.

Academics specialising in Viking history from as far away as Sweden and Norway voiced their opposition to the Government after the housing scheme was given outline planning permission two years ago.

The archaeological digs have been co-ordinated by the Fulford Battlefield Society, which was established nine years ago to investigate the site.

A series of finds which have been unearthed include fragments of what could be 11th century swords and arrows. Other pieces of worked metal have also been discovered, suggesting that Norse blacksmiths could have been operating there.

According to Mr Jones, the iron finds support the theory that metal had been gathered and recycled in an area close to where the battle took place once the fighting had ceased.

Archaeological experts believe the metal artefacts discovered at Fulford were being refined and recycled by the Norse victors when the Battle of Stamford took place on the border of North and East Yorkshire just five days later.

The Fulford site was abandoned by the Vikings as they switched their attention to Stamford Bridge, explaining why so much material has been left behind.

A full report on the 10-year research project into the Battle of Fulford is due to be published in February.

BATTLE CHANGED COURSE OF HISTORY

The Battle of Fulford has often been dismissed as no more than a curtain-raiser to the most famous conflict on English soil. But historians have emphasised the events of Wednesday, September 20, 1066, on the outskirts of York were to have a huge impact on the Battle of Hastings.

The Battle of Fulford placed the English forces under immense pressure and losses suffered in Yorkshire were to have a dramatic impact on resistance at Hastings. After sailing up the Ouse with about 10,000 men in 300 longships, Harald Hardrada and rebel English earl, Tostig, defeated the earls Edwin and Morcar. Harold scraped together a scratch force and raced 180 miles north in just four days to rout the Norwegian army outside York at Stamford Bridge on September 25. Then on October 14, Harold was defeated as he tried to block the Norman advance at Hastings with an army of little more than 5,000 weary troops.

Additional info here and here.

Staffordshire Anglo-Saxon treasure hoard valued at £3.3m

The largest and arguably most beautiful hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found in Britain has been valued at nearly £3.3m by a panel of experts, a reward that will be shared between the amateur metal detectorist who found it and the Staffordshire farmer in whose pasture it lay hidden for 1,300 years.

Professor Norman Palmer, chair of the treasure valuation committee, whose members pored over 1,800 gold, silver and jewelled objects in a day-long session at the British Museum, said: “It was breathtaking – we all agreed that it was not only a challenge but a privilege to be dealing with material of such quantity, quality and beauty. It was hard to stop our imaginations running away with us.”

Museums in Staffordshire will now scramble to raise the money – £3.285m to be precise – which will be paid as compensation to Terry Herbert, the metal detectorist, and Fred Johnson, the farmer.

Johnson was magnificently underwhelmed by his good fortune this morning. “Right now I’m just trying to get over the flu, and money is the last thing on my mind. I hope it’ll not make any difference to me. I won’t be putting in a swimming pool anyway, this country is wet enough already.

“I’ve been a millionaire for years anyway,” he chuckled wheezily, “isn’t that what they always say about farmers?”

Johnson, who paid his first visit to London to see the pieces installed in a temporary display at the British Museum, and bought a suit for the occasion, is in awe of the extraordinary objects that poured out of his field. “Anybody would have to be in wonder at the workmanship, and the years all that history has been lying in the ground with me driving across it.”

Some had speculated that the hoard could be worth many times the sum eventually settled on by the valuation committee. But Johnson was content: “A friend of mine came round and said another hoard was worth £12m, and mine was bigger so it might be worth more – but I said I hope to God it ain’t, I wouldn’t want that responsibility.”

He added: “I’ve met people through this I would never have come upon in all my life. It’s been a wonderful experience.”

Palmer said valuing the hoard was a unique experience in his 13 years as chair of the committee.

“We dealt with masses of paperwork before the meeting, and solicited four independent expert valuations in advance, which is unprecedented in my experience. When we met we were driven by two lodestars, scrupulous accuracy obviously, and a determination not to allow the process to drag on and on but to arrive at a figure which would be acceptable to all parties. I don’t think they would have been happy if it had dragged on beyond Christmas.”

Herbert found the first pieces of gold last July, some lying just below the surface or tangled in grassroots in the field, which Johnson had ploughed deeper than usual the previous season. When he reported the find a small army of archaeologists and forensic investigators hit the field, giving the cover story that police were investigating a murder.

They recovered box after box of exquisitely worked gold, including a cheek flap from a helmet, dozens of pommel and hilt decorations from swords, a gold processional cross and a cryptic inscription from the Bible on a strip of gold. Archaeologists will be poring over the find for years, and have already said it will rewrite the history of Anglo-Saxon England, and the pugnacious kingdom of Mercia where it was found.

When the find was announced in September, the news went round the world. Some mud-caked pieces went on display for a fortnight at Birmingham city museum and people queued for up to four hours to see them, with the museum having to double its opening hours. Highlights of the collection now on display at the British Museum have created the same buzz of excitement.

“There was some speculation that because there was just so much in this hoard it might drive down its value,” Palmer said. “But others of us held the opposite opinion, that because it had created so much excitement, if it were ever to go to auction, people who wouldn’t normally be interested would want to own a piece of it, driving up the value.

“We are satisfied that we have arrived at a value which is both fair, and reflects the extraordinary interest and importance of this hoard.”

The British Museum has launched a rapid-response book on the hoard, written by Kevin Leahy, the archaeologist who spent weeks cataloguing all 1,800 pieces as they came into the Birmingham museum – with his wife weighing them and labelling them with cloakroom tickets – and Roger Bland, head of the portable antiquities scheme, which encourages metal detectorists such as Herbert to report all their archaeological finds. One pound from each copy sold will be donated to the appeal to acquire the treasure for local museums, to keep the extraordinary objects on display in the county whose history they have transformed.

SOURCE

Additional resources here & here

Staffordshire Hoard – huge Anglo-Saxon gold hoard found!

some of the hoard pieces

The UK’s largest haul of Anglo-Saxon treasure has been discovered buried beneath a field in Staffordshire.

Experts say the collection of 1,500 gold and silver pieces, which may date to the 7th Century, is unparalleled in size and worth “a seven figure sum”.

It has been declared treasure by South Staffordshire coroner Andrew Haigh, meaning it belongs to the Crown.

Terry Herbert, who found it on farmland using a metal detector, said it “was what metal detectorists dream of”.

It may take more than a year for it to be valued.

The Staffordshire hoard contains about 5kg of gold and 2.5kg of silver, making it far bigger than the Sutton Hoo discovery in 1939 when 1.5kg of Anglo-Saxon gold was found near Woodbridge in Suffolk.

Leslie Webster, former keeper at the British Museum’s Department of Prehistory and Europe, said: “This is going to alter our perceptions of Anglo-Saxon England as radically, if not more so, as the Sutton Hoo discoveries.

“(It is) absolutely the equivalent of finding a new Lindisfarne Gospels or Book of Kells.”

The Book of Kells and Lindisfarne Gospels are intricately illuminated manuscripts of the four New Testament Gospels dating from the 9th and 8th Centuries.

‘Just unbelievable’

helmet cheek plateMr Herbert, 55, of Burntwood in Staffordshire, who has been metal detecting for 18 years, came across the hoard as he searched land belonging to a farmer friend over five days in July. The exact location has not been disclosed.

“I have this phrase that I say sometimes; ‘spirits of yesteryear take me where the coins appear’, but on that day I changed coins to gold,” he said.

“I don’t know why I said it that day but I think somebody was listening and directed me to it.

“This is what metal detectorists dream of, finding stuff like this. But the vast amount there is just unbelievable.”

BBC correspondent Nick Higham said the hoard would be valued by the British Museum and the money passed on to Mr Herbert and the landowner.

A total of 1,345 items have been examined by experts, although the list includes 56 clods of earth which have been X-rayed and are known to contain further metal artefacts.

This means the total number of items found is likely to rise to about 1,500.

staffordshire hoard gold strip with inscriptionFollowing the initial find, Alex Jones, director of Birmingham Archaeology and his colleagues were invited to excavate the site, Birmingham University said.

Mr Jones said it was fantastic news for the region and raised the importance of heritage research.

“Being a partner in one of the most exciting archaeological discoveries of our time is something we can all be proud of,” he said.

Experts have so far established that there were at least 650 items of gold in the haul, weighing more than 5kgs (11lb), and 530 silver objects totalling more than 1kg (2.2lb) in weight.

Copper alloy, garnets and glass objects were also discovered at the undisclosed site.

Duncan Slarke, finds liaison officer for Staffordshire, was the first professional to see the hoard which contains warfare paraphernalia, including sword pommel caps and hilt plates inlaid with precious stones.

He said he was “virtually speechless” when he saw the items.

“I saw boxes full of gold, items exhibiting the very finest Anglo-Saxon workmanship,” he added.

Roger Bland, head of portable antiquities and treasure at the British Museum, said: “The most we can say is, I think we’re fairly confident it is likely to be a seven-figure sum.”

‘Truly remarkable’

sword fittingThe collection is currently being kept in secure storage at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery but a selection of the items are to be displayed at the museum from Friday until 13 October.

Dr Kevin Leahy, who has been cataloguing the find for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, said it was “a truly remarkable collection”.

He said it had been found in the heartland of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia.

“All the archaeologists who’ve worked with it have been awestruck,” he added.

“It’s been actually quite scary working on this material to be in the presence of greatness.”

He said the most striking feature of the find was that it was almost totally weapon fittings with no feminine objects such as dress fittings, brooches or pendants.

“Swords and sword fittings were very important in the Anglo-Saxon period,” Dr Leahy added.

“It looks like a collection of trophies, but it is impossible to say if the hoard was the spoils from a single battle or a long and highly successful military career.

“We also cannot say who the original, or the final, owners were, who took it from them, why they buried it or when.

“It will be debated for decades.”

SOURCE

Staffordshire Hoard Press Pack

UPDATE [more images]

Visit Staffordshire Hoard official website, as well as this FLICKR photo set, for more images and info !

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