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Category Archives: Ancient Mediterranean

Edward Harris on the Iruña-Veleia affaire

Edward C. Harris, Director of the Bermuda Maritime Museum and world-famous among archaeologists for being the inceptor of the Harris matrix, which soon became standard procedure in all serious digs, wrote yesterday at The Royal Gazette on his recent visit to the Basque Country and the Iruña-Veleia affair. 
On this one he says the following:
In late November 2012, I was invited to the
Basque Country to speak at a conference on archaeological works at the
Roman town of Iruña-Veleia, a short distance from the city of
Vitoria-Gasteiz, being one of the leading experts in matters of
stratigraphy in archaeology, the science that controls the excavation
and recording of archaeological sites, and the subsequent analyses of
portable heritage from such places. While it would have been easy to
bask in the honour in which the “Harris Matrix” is held in such matters,
at least with the Basques, the purpose of the conference was to review
some of the subjects that have made Iruña-Veleia one of the most
controversial sites in the world.
The issue
revolves around classes of artifacts found at the site by an
archaeological team led by Idoia Filloy and Eliseo Gill, objects of
pottery, brick and bone that were reused as writing tablets and
inscribed with words and pictures in later Roman times. The information
contained on the artifacts appears to have conflicted with presently
held views of the origins of the Basque language and other subjects, so
much so that some experts declared them to be fakes, forged perhaps by
the archaeologists who found them. Apparently without proof, academic or
otherwise, the archaeologists have been hung out to dry in the media,
which unfortunately is often the fate of the falsely accused, as one
Lord McAlpine found recently when he was defamed by the BBC, no less,
and ‘twittered’, almost to death.
As to
motivation, one cannot ‘follow the money’, as there is, and will likely
always be, a dearth of it in archaeology. A preliminary audit would
suggest that the archaeologists conducted the excavations to modern
standards, particularly in recording, but as artifacts can be moved
without losing their integrity, it is difficult to comment on the
placement of objects after a “dig” has finished. 
Given
the complexity of the supposedly forged graffitti, all that one can say
at this stage is that if the artifacts are forgeries, that the
perpetrators of such a hoax are geniuses of the first order, but who, as
archaeologists, would want to claim fame on the basis of such
forgeries, when the real thing is usually of a far more abiding
interest?
H/t to Iruña blog.
See also for background: category: Iruña-Veleia in this blog and its ancestor.
 

Epipaleolithic Sicilian had mtDNA haplogroup HV1

Besides sequencing this individual’s ancient DNA, the study focuses on discerning the earliest stable occupation of the island and the diet of its inhabitants.
Marcellino A. Manino et al., Origin and Diet of the Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherers on the Mediterranean Island of Favignana (Ègadi Islands, Sicily). PLoS ONE 2012. Open access ··> LINK [doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049802]
The authors argue that this occupation of Sicily could be the oldest stable one and that it happened because of the formation of a land bridge because of low sea levels soon after the Last Glacial Maximum (but actual bathymetries hardly support such land bridge, so soon after the LGM they needed boats again to cross the dangerous Strait of Messina). However some Aurignacian artifacts are known and believed to be of older chronology. 
They also argue that, based on the N/C isotopic ratios, these peoples had a mostly carnivore land-based diet. This leaves me quite perplex because the Nitrogen-15 values are much higher than those of foxes (a mostly carnivore animal) and that is usually considered a signature of feeding off sea mammals. 

Figure 3. Carbon and nitrogen isotope composition of bone collagen from Mesolithic humans and fauna of Grotta d’Oriente.

See also: Magdalenians did eat sea mammals (at my old discontinued blog Leherensuge).

 

Ivory worked in Andalusia 4800 years ago was from West Asia

The revolutionary ivory hoard
It has been reported today that workshops in the Chalcolithic (and Megalithic) site of Valencina de la Concepción (near Seville, Andalusia) used ivory imported from West Asia, belonging to tusks of the extinct Syrian (or also Assyrian) elephant (the westernmost variant of the Asian elephant, Elephas maximus). 
Until today it was generally believed (by default) that the ivory used in Chalcolithic crafting was from North Africa, however the (also extinct) North African elephant was a variant of the African species Loxodonta africana. 
While trade with Northern Europe (amber) was acknowledged as a matter of fact but was strongly supported by cultural elements (Megalithism), as well as by the unmistakably Nordic amber which washes to the beaches of the Baltic and German Sea, trade and cultural connections with the Eastern Mediterranean were considered speculative at best.
This discovery, which traces the first (indirect?) trade with West Asia to some 4800 years ago appears to demolish almost single-handedly the usual notions about Western European Chalcolithic (c. 3000-1800 BCE) by which contacts with the Eastern Mediterranean were considered speculative or even unlikely. There seems to be a glass bead in Eastern Iberia but nothing else that could support consistently contacts with anywhere East of Italy or Lybia. Only nearing the Bronze Age (which may begin c. 1850 BCE in the most developed parts of Iberia) such connections could be taken for granted (and yet mostly because of cultural rather than material imports). 
However the late Megalithic burial types of the Chalcolithic (tholos, artificial caves, etc.) which partly replace the classical dolmen in the areas we could well call more civilized (parts of Southern Iberia and Languedoc), has been argued in the past to be conceptual imports from the Eastern Mediterranean (places like Kurdistan and Cyprus, where tholoi were used first for housing apparently). But a time gap of a whole millennium (or more) made it all a bit hard to accept and the competing theory of the architectural concept of false dome (tholos) being invented twice became rather mainstream. 
The finding has been reported in the Acts of the Congress on Ivory and Elephants, which took place in Alicante and it’s also said to be published in the Journal of Archaeological Science (but I can’t find it so it may well be awaiting publication). The research has been carried by academics from the University of Huelva, the German Archaeological Institute and the Valencina Museum. 
 

Visual etymological

Spanish archaeological blog Asociación los Dólmenes reports today[es] that a curious and somewhat obscene finding is at the roots of the modern city of Seville (known as Hispalis in Roman times). The finding of a phallic relief on the entrance of one of the oldest buildings of that city, at the port, has open a debate on whether the city has its origins in whore house (as could be normal for a harbor) or are we talking instead of a building-protector deity apparently of North African origins (where is found in many public buildings).

But regardless of the exact meaning of the icon, the depiction of an erect virile member with avian legs made me think of the origin of colloquial Spanish and English words for penis: cock and polla (Sp. chicken, fem.) Obviously Romans were not thinking of T. rex, right?
What about other languages? Berber, Portuguese, Catalan-Occitan, French, Italian? 
PS: The image actually has a lizard-like tail what should get us all a bit perplex because the closest thing that comes to mind is a dinosaur but Romans could not know anything about dinos, could they? 
This is the kind of argument used to reject the authenticity of some archeological findings like in the Iruña-Veleia case, where conjectures about the plausibility or not of this or that text (the non-existent Descartes – is Miscart) or letter (Z for example) have been used as alleged proof of falsification
Whatever the deep logic behind this icon, it’s not weirder than gargoyles or centaurs, is it?
 
 

Virtual visit to Iruña-Veleia

The Town Hall of Iruña-Oka  is the modern heir of the Vasco-Roman town of Veleia, known in medieval times as Iruña: the capital or the city, as happened with other Roman cities: Pompaelo, now Iruñea-Pamplona, Oiasso, now Irun, etc. 
As such, and on light of the continuous mismanagement by higher-level institutions (chartered government of Araba, Western Basque autonomous government), seems to have taken the matter of promoting and explaining the site on their own hands. 
To that effect, along with an already existing webpage with extensive information (in Spanish language mostly), the Town Hall has created a virtual visit site with panoramic views and reenacting illustrations ··> LINK
Needless to say that the Town Hall is not just the only institution taking Iruña-Veleia seriously nowadays but also the only one that seems to give official credibility to the finding of the exceptional graffiti (written in Basque, Vulgar Latin and other languages) performed by Eliseo Gil in 2006 and challenged by a powerful mafia of established linguists with enormous influences.
See also:
 

Megalithic burial found in Minorca

The naveta (Binibèquer, Sant Lluís) is one of a few in all the island, belonging to the Bronze Age (Naviform I period: c. 1750-1000 BCE). This kind of tombs are exclusive of Minorca.

The new discovery is yet to be researched or even cleared

The famous and well preserved Naveta des Tudons (for comparison)
CC BY-ND 2.0

Source: Menorca Info[es] (via Pileta).

 

Roman town of Iturissa found near Roncevaux Pass

Archaeologists at work (Berria)
It has been known these days that archaeologists of the Arazandi Society of Sciences, together with Italian colleagues, have located and partly dug the Vasco-Roman town of Iturissa, mentioned by several classical sources.
Iturissa was first mentioned by Ptolemy as a town of the Vascones, being then mentioned in two Roman itineraries as mansio (official Imperial inn) in the Asturica-ab-Burdigala (Astorga to Bordeaux) road, north of Pompaelo (Pamplona), controlling the Immus Pyrenaeaus (Roncevaux Pass, locally known as Ibaineta). 
The name Iturissa sounds totally Basque, possibly the latinized version of Iturritza (itur(ri)-aitza: spring rock?) but in any case something related to springs or fountains (iturri, often itur- in toponymy). Not too far from there for example there is a village known as Ituren, a similar sounding name. 
The modern towns in the area of Iturissa are however known as Auritz (Burguete) and Auritzberri (Espinal), with the current findings being from the area of Zaldua.
The campaign so far could only make some initial explorations, finding high quality foundations and walls and what looks like a very promising stratigraphic sequence. The researchers estimate that the whole town occupies several hectares.

Inscribed stones from Iturissa (Berria)
Cautionary note: 
I read at Rutas Arqueológicas de Navarra[es] that the town of Iturissa was dug in the 1980s, including a detailed map of it. However this settlement seems to be located further NW of the current dig, which is said to be in Zaldua, where the mausoleum and Roman bridge are the only things marked.

Related document (update):

Video (mini-documentary, 5 mins, mostly in Spanish, some Basque) of the finding and excavation of some Roman propagandistic milestones (millarii), which are the same stones shown above.

These were found at an almost forgotten path of Auritzberri known as bidezarra (the old path or road), which the people suspected to be an ancient Roman road but was just a popular belief… until now.

The discussed milestone reads: NOBILISSIMO CAES FLAVIO VAL CONSTANTIO P F AUG, i.e. to the holy (P[ius]) and happy (F[elix]) Emperor (Caesar) named Flavius Valerius Constatius Augustus, which should be Constantius Chloros.

Source: Iruña.