Thursday, June 22, 2017

1,500-Year-Old Mound in England Found to be Elite Anglo Saxon Burial

Ancient Origins

Students at the historic British boys’ boarding school Eton College may have been using an ancient grave as a community gathering place for centuries, not realizing that the 20-foot mound near the school is really a Saxon burial monument built 1,500 years ago, possibly holding the body of an important historical figure.

Eton Montem as depicted in The English Spy, published 1825. (public domain)

 New Finds Will Extend Knowledge of the History of Slough
The University of Reading official website reports that the circular mound in Slough, England, which is more than 100 feet (30 meters) across, was built about 1,500 years ago, during the same period of time other well-known burial mounds were created in order to “accommodate” local leaders and people of high social status. According to the archaeologists of the prestigious University, the Montem Mound in the Berkshire town, now surrounded by Municipal buildings and car parks, is no exception to that rule and most likely served as the resting place of a significant person and could also contain artifacts of significant value.

 The discovery of the “Sutton Hoo of Slough” is considered to be of great archaeological value since it is only one of the very few mounds from this period. Additionally, the newly found mound opposes the previous dominant theory that suggested that the specific structure was a Norman Conquest-era “motte and bailey” castle.

Dr. Jim Leary, the University of Reading archaeologist who led the exploration back in December 2016, stated as Phys Org reports: "Conventional wisdom placed the Montem Mound 500 years later, in the Norman period. But we have shown that it dates to between the 5th and 7th centuries, not long after the collapse of Roman Empire. This is a time of heroic myth and legend where archaeology fills the gaps of the historic record. This discovery will add so much more to our understanding of the people who lived in Britain at this time. It will also extend our knowledge of the history of Slough."

Unique Technique Used for the First Time
The mound is already a statutory Scheduled Ancient Monument which protects it from development. As Phys Org mentions, the discovery took place during a Leverhulme Trust-funded project called the “Round Mounds Project”. With the use of a novel technique which drills into and dates mottes in England for the first time, researchers get a unique chance to learn more about the age of the monuments. The specific technique allows important information to be collected while it doesn’t severely harm the precious archaeological sites.

King George III and Queen Charlotte at the “Montem”, 1778 (ink wash on paper), by Samuel H. Grimm via the British Library online gallery 

Working alongside colleagues at the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre at East Kilbride, the team from Reading has demonstrated that, despite the majority of the mounds examined so far being constructed in the period immediately after the Norman Conquest in 1066, there are some extraordinary exceptions.

Dr. Jim Leary said as Phys Org reports, “We tested material from all through the mound, so we are confident that it dates to the Saxon period. Given the dates of the mound, its size and dimensions, and the proximity to the known richly-furnished Saxon barrow at Taplow, it seems most likely that Montem Mound is a prestigious Saxon burial mound."

Montem Mound, Bath Road, Slough. December 1997 (Slough History Online)

 The archaeological investigations at the site were agreed with Historic England, and consent was granted by the Secretary of State. It is managed as a historical feature as part of Slough Borough Council's parks and open spaces services. The Council is already preparing an enhancement scheme with an interpretation board so that everyone can understand the importance and history of this special green mound.

Top image: Main: Anglo Saxon Portraits (BBC) Inset: Montem Mound (CC by SA 3.0)

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Summer Solstice - June 21, 2017

The longest day of the year! The summer solstice occurs when the tilt of a planet's semi-axis, in either the northern or the southern hemisphere, is most inclined toward the star that it orbits.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Sam’s historical recipe corner: Anzac biscuits

History Extra

Tasty, nutritious and easy to make, it’s not surprising that Anzac biscuits are still a popular snack in Australia and New Zealand, particularly on Anzac Day (25 April), which marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War.

85g porridge oats
 85g desiccated coconut
 100g plain flour
 100g caster sugar
 100g butter, plus extra for greasing
 1 tbsp golden syrup
 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Heat oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Put the oats, coconut, flour and sugar in a bowl. Melt the butter in a small pan and stir in the golden syrup. Add the bicarbonate of soda to 2 tbsp boiling water, then stir into the golden syrup and butter mixture.

 Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the butter and golden syrup mixture. Stir gently to incorporate the dry ingredients.

 Put dessertspoonfuls of the mixture on to buttered baking sheets – about 2.5cm/1in apart to allow room for spreading. Bake in batches for 8-10 mins until golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

 My verdict
I’ve often read that Anzac biscuits were sent out to New Zealand and Australian troops serving in Gallipoli during the First World War. According to the National Army Museum, though, this is a myth and most of these deliciously chewy biscuits were in fact sold at fetes and galas at home, often as part of fundraising efforts. You can imagine, though, that they would have been an ideal biscuit for soldiers: hearty, nutritious and long-lasting.

 On a Monday morning, the BBC History Magazine team tucked into a few that had been left in the office all weekend: they still tasted just as good!

 Difficulty: 2/10
 Time: 20 minutes

 Recipe courtesy of BBC Good Food.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Seductive Sirens of Greek Mythology: How the Heroes Resisted Temptation

Ancient Origins

Sirens (sometimes spelled as ‘seirenes’) are a type of creature found in ancient Greek mythology. Sirens are commonly described as beautiful but dangerous creatures. In Greek mythology, sirens are known for seducing sailors with their sweet voices, and, by doing so, lure them to their deaths. The sirens have been mentioned by numerous ancient Greek authors. Arguably one of the most famous references regarding the sirens comes from Homer’s Odyssey, in which the hero, Odysseus, encounters these creatures during his voyage home from Troy.

Terracotta two handed vase or Kylix, decorated with black Sirens (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Sirens in Ancient Literature The number of sirens varies according to the ancient authors. Homer, for example, mentions neither the number nor names of the sirens that Odysseus and his companions encountered. Other writers, however, are more descriptive. For instance, some state that there were two sirens (Aglaopheme and Thelxiepeia), whilst others claim that there were three of them (Peisino√ę, Aglaope and Thelxiepeia or Parthenope, Ligeia and Leucosia).

Ulysses and the Sirens, 1868, Firmin Girard (Public Domain)

The authors were also not in agreement with each other regarding the parentage of the sirens. One author, for instance, claimed that the sirens were the daughters of Phorcys (a primordial sea god), whilst another stated that they were the children of Terpsichore (one of the nine Muses). According to one tradition, the sirens were the companions or handmaidens of Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. After Persephone’s abduction by Hades, the sirens were given wings. According to some authors, this was requested by the sirens themselves, so that they may be more effective at searching for their mistress. Others attribute these wings as a punishment from Demeter, as the sirens had failed to prevent the abduction of Persephone.

An Archaic perfume vase in the shape of a siren, circa 540 BC (Public Domain)

In any event, this association with the myth of Persephone’s abduction has contributed to the depiction of the sirens by the ancient Greeks. In general, these creatures are depicted as birds with the heads of women. In some instances, the sirens are depicted with arms. According to researchers, the sirens (or at least the way they are portrayed) are of Eastern origin (the ancient Egyptian ba, for example, is often depicted as a bird with a human head), and entered Greece during the orientalising period of Greek art.

 Resisting the Sirens’ Seductive Song
The sirens appear in many ancient Greek myths. One of the most famous of stories about the sirens can be found in Homer’s Odyssey. In this piece of literature, the sirens are said to live on an island near Scylla and Charybdis, and the hero Odysseus was warned about them by Circe. In order to stop his men from being seduced by the sirens’ singing, Odysseus had his men block their ears with wax. As the hero wanted to hear the sirens singing, he ordered his men to tie him tightly to the mast of the ship. As Odysseus and his men sailed past the island which the sirens inhabited, the men were unaffected by their song, as they could not hear it. As for Odysseus, he heard the sirens sing, but lived to tell the tale, being bound to the mast.

Ulysses and the Sirens, 1891, John William Waterhouse. Ulysses (Odysseus) is tied to the mast and the crew have their ears covered to protect them from the sirens (Public Domain)

Another myth that features the sirens is that of Jason and the Argonauts. Like Odysseus, Jason and his men also had to sail past the siren’s island. Fortunately for the Argonauts, they had Orpheus, the legendary musician, with them. As the sirens began to sing their song, in the hopes of seducing the Argonauts, Orpheus played a tune on his lyre. The music overpowered the voices of the sirens, and the Argonauts were able to sail safely past the island. Only one Argonaut, Butes, was enchanted, and he jumped out of the ship in order to swim to them. Fortunately for him, he was saved by Aphrodite, who took him from the sea, and placed him in Lilybaeum.

 Top image: Ulysses (Odysseus) and the Sirens, circa, 1909 by Herbert James Draper. (Public Domain)

 By Wu Mingren

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pegasus: The Majestic White Horse of Olympus

Ancient Origins

Pegasus is the majestic flying horse found in Greek mythology. This creature is traditionally depicted as a pure white horse with wings. The father of Pegasus is said to be the god of the sea, Poseidon, whilst its mother was the Gorgon Medusa. Pegasus is best known for its association with the heroes Perseus and Bellerophon. In the story of Perseus’ slaying of Medusa, one can find the narration of Pegasus’ birth. This winged horse later became the mount of Bellerophon, and can be found in the stories about this hero’s exploits, including the slaying of the chimera, and his flight to Mount Olympus.

 Hesiod's Theogony
In Hesiod's Theogony, it is written that “with her [Medusa] the god of the Sable Locks [Poseidon] lay in a soft meadow among the spring flowers”. The union between Medusa and Poseidon resulted in Pegasus and Chrysaor, who were born when Medusa was decapitated by the hero Perseus,

 “And when Perseus cut off her head from her neck, out sprang great Chrysaor and the horse Pegasus. He was so named because he was born beside the waters of Oceanus, while the other was born with a golden sword in his hands.”

Perseus with the head of Medusa, Benvenuto Cellini (1554) (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Hesiod also mentions that after Pegasus was born, the horse flew off to Mount Olympus, where it came to live in Zeus’ palace. There, Pegasus was given the job of carrying the god’s thunder and lightning. Alternatively, the stories in Greek mythology suggest that Pegasus spent some time on earth before flying to Mount Olympus. During this time, Pegasus served two heroes – Perseus and Bellerophon.

 Following the death of Medusa, Perseus is said to have been travelling home when he caught sight of a maiden chained to a rock. This was Andromeda, the daughter of the King and Queen of Ethiopia. Andromeda’s mother had angered Poseidon by boasting that her daughter was more beautiful than even the Nereids. The god then punished the people of Ethiopia by first sending a flood, and then a sea monster to terrorize them. The only way to appease Poseidon was to sacrifice Andromeda, which was the reason for her being chained to a rock.

Pegasus emerges from the body of Medusa. ‘The Perseus Series: The Death of Medusa I’ by Edward Burne-Jones (Public Domain)

Perseus offered to rescue the princess, and deal with the monster, provided that he be given Andromeda’s hand in marriage. The king agreed to this, and when the monster came to claim the princess, it was turned to stone by Perseus with the severed head of Medusa. The connection between Pegasus and Andromeda may be seen in the sky, where their constellations can be found side by side.

Perseus saving Andromeda, 1596, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin. (Public Domain)

Bellerophon and Pegasus
Pegasus was also the mount of Bellerophon, who came to possess the flying horse during his quest against the chimera. According to one story, the hero had visited the city of Tiryns, where Proetus was king. The queen, Stheneboea, is said to have fallen in love with Bellerophon, though the hero rejected her advances. Feeling humiliated, Stheneboea went to her husband, and accused the hero of trying to seduce her. The enraged Proetus sent Bellerophon to his father-in-law, Iobates, the King of Lycia, with a letter. In the letter, the king was asked to kill the messenger.

 Instead of putting Bellerophon to death, however, Iobates decided to dispatch the hero on a quest to kill the chimera, believing that he would not survive the encounter. To prepare for this quest, Bellerophon is said to have consulted the Corinthian seer, Polyeidos, who advised him to seek out Pegasus. In one version of the myth, Polyeidos knew where Pegasus alighted to drink, and shared the information with Bellerophon, thus allowing him to tame it. In another version, it was Poseidon (Bellerophon’s secret father) who brought Pegasus to him. The most popular version of the story, however, is that it was Athena who brought Pegasus to Bellerophon. With the help of Pegasus, Bellerophon succeeded in slaying the chimera.

Bellerophon on Pegasus spears the Chimera, on an Attic red-figure epinetron, 425–420 BC. (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Over time, Bellerophon’s pride grew, and he aspired to scale the heights of Mount Olympus on the back of Pegasus to take his place amongst the immortals. Zeus was aware of the hero’s ambition, and sent a gadfly to sting Pegasus. Bellerophon lost his balance, and fell back to earth. Pegasus, however, continued the journey to Mount Olympus, and went on to live in Zeus’ palace, and was given the task of carrying the god’s thunder and lightning.

Bellerophon riding Pegasus (1914) (Public Domain)

Top image: Pegasus. (

By Wu Mingren

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Archaeologists Stumble Upon 10 Egyptian Late Period Rock-Hewn Tombs

Ancient Origins

An Egyptian mission from the Ministry of Antiquities recently came across 10 previously undiscovered rock-hewn tombs on the West Bank of Aswan. They say the tombs date to the Late Period (664‒332 BC) and contain sarcophagi, mummies, and funerary collections.

The team was working at the nearby Agha Kahn mausoleum when they found the tombs. Nasr Salama, director-general of Aswan and Nubia Antiquities, told Ahram Online the tombs are architecturally similar. All feature sliding steps leading to an entrance, followed by a small burial chamber. Inside those chambers the researchers have found stone sarcophagi and mummies, as well as artifacts such as a gilded coffin, painted mummy mask, clay pot, and canopic jars.

A painted mummy mask found as part of one of the funerary collections. ( Ahram Online )

Funerary goods were very important elements of ancient Egyptian burials. As Ancient Origins writer Dhwty explained in an article on enigmatic funerary cones :

 “Ancient Egyptians were extremely concerned about the afterlife, and they did all they could to provide for the dead. Funerary goods were buried with the dead to provide protection and sustenance in the afterlife. Amulets and magic spells, for example, protected and aided the dead in their journey through the Underworld, whilst little figurines called shabtis could be magically animated to perform tasks for the dead in the afterlife. Other common items buried with the dead include jewelry, pottery, furniture and food.”

A canopic jar found in one of the Aswan tombs. ( Ministry of Antiquities )

An initial study of the tombs suggests that they are likely an extension of the Aswan necropolis containing overseers from the Old, Middle, and New kingdom. The team will return to excavations and conservation work on the tombs in September. They hope to learn more about the deceased at that time.

 In June 2015, Mark Miller reported for Ancient Origins that six other ancient Egyptian tombs belonging to elite members of the 26th dynasty of the Late Pharaonic Period were found in the necropolis near Agha Khan’s mausoleum. Before that, only tombs from the early and middle dynasties had been excavated in that part of Aswan.

Those tombs were looted in the unrest of 2011, but a number of stunning artifacts were still found including some sarcophagi with mummies intact, statues of the falcon-headed god Horus and his four sons, and amulets of different colors, shapes and sizes.

Statues found in the 26th dynasty Aswan tombs in 2015. (Ministry of Antiquities/ Egitalloyd Travel Egypt ) 

The 26th dynasty has been called both a Renaissance, after Assyrian conquerors left and Egyptian governors declared themselves kings, and as the last gasp of a once great culture. As Mark Miller wrote: 

“Historians say the prosperity of the time is evident in the many temples built then and the precise care taken to reproduce ancient artworks and literary texts. Also, archaeologists have found that the number of contracts written on papyrus from this era was increasing.”

The Brooklyn Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian medical papyrus dating from about 450 BC. ( Brooklyn Museum )

Top Image: Part of a gilded coffin which was found in one of the Aswan tombs. Source: Ministry of Antiquities

By Alicia McDermott

Friday, June 16, 2017

Celtic Prince or Princess? Researchers Have Finally Ascertained Who Owned an Opulent 2500-Year-Old Tomb in France

Ancient Origins

First unearthed in 2015, research on the stunning artifacts found in a rich tomb in Lavau, France are finally coming to light. Scholars have managed to solve the mystery of the tomb’s owner and have provided some other exciting pieces of information on the rich grave goods.

The 2,500-year-old human remains were first discovered in 2015 when archaeologists were exploring a site in preparation for construction of a new commercial center. The tumulus (burial mound) was surrounded by a ditch and palisade. The tomb was said to be larger than the cathedral of nearby Troyes.

 The body found in this huge burial mound was accompanied by a chariot, a vase depicting Dionysus, and a beautiful Mediterranean bronze cauldron adorned with castings of the Greek god Achelous and lions’ heads. These elaborate artifacts, along with a stunning gold necklace, bracelets, and finely worked amber beads adorning the skeleton, asserted the person's elite status.

Artifacts in the Celtic elite’s tomb in 2015. ( Denis Gliksman, Inrap )

The French archaeological agency INRAP said the treasures of the tomb are “fitting for one of the highest elite of the end of the first Iron Age,” and told the media it is one of the most remarkable finds of the Celtic Hallstatt period of 800 to 450 BC.

 Initially, the archaeologists were uncertain to whom the tomb pertained, first stating that a large knife found alongside the remains suggested it was made for a man, however, the rich golden jewelry opened the possibility that a Celtic princess may have been buried instead.

Now, IB Times reports the recent analysis of the shape of the pelvic bones has solved that mystery – it is today known as the ‘Lavau prince’s’ tomb.

The recent analysis of the shape of the pelvic bones has solved the mystery of the tomb’s owner – it was a Celtic ‘prince.’ (Denis Gliksman, Inrap )

 Furthermore, the recent INRAP analysis of the bronze cauldron has shown researchers that its creator(s) had mastered smelting and engraving techniques. By using X-ray radiography, the researchers have found that the prince’s belt is unique and has Celtic motifs formed with silver threads. An examination of a knife sheath showed fine bronze threads. The researchers also saw that a gold torc and several gold bangles have marks where they rubbed against the prince’s skin.

Finally, chemical analysis and 3-D photography show that a large jar that was used to pour wine combines Greek-style ceramic with golden Etruscan and silver Celtic designs. This is an important discovery for the researchers as it provides more evidence of a mix of cultural influences and supports the presence of economic and social interaction present amongst Celtic and Mediterranean people in the 5th century BC. As INRAP previously explained :

"The tomb contains mortuary deposits of sumptuousness worth that of the top Hallstatt elites. The period between the late 6th Century and the beginning of the 5th Century BC was characterized by the economic development of Greek and Etruscan city-states in the West, in particularly Marseilles. Mediterranean traders come into contact with the continental Celtic communities as they searched for slaves, metals and precious goods (including amber)."

Artifacts from the Celtic Lavau Prince’s tomb. ( Denis Gliksman, Inrap )

 The prince’s grave is considered one of the most important archaeological discoveries in France in recent decades and it has been compared to the 1953 unearthing of a grave for the 'Lady of Vix'.

INRAP reports that research concerning the prince’s tomb will continue until 2019, with hopes that more information will come to light.

Top Image: This bronze cauldron is one of the stunning artifacts which have been analyzed from the tomb of a Celtic elite found in Lavau, France. Source: Denis Gliksman, Inrap

 By Alicia McDermott