Links, Archaeological

• From Yleisradio Oy (Finland’s national broadcaster), news of the genetic origins of the Finns:

Iron Age DNA sheds light on Finns’ genetic origin

A new study suggests that during the Iron Age Finland was home to separate and different populations.

Researchers at Helsinki and Turku universities mapping ancient Finno-Ugric ancestry say modern-day Finns carry genes from diverse populations living in the region of Finland during the Iron Age.

They said they were able to reconstruct 103 complete mitochondrial genomes from archaeological bone samples, allowing them to trace maternal lineage. The samples were collected from burial sites across Finland and the Republic of Karelia, Russia.

Scientists found that genes associated with ancient farmer populations were more common in the east, whereas lineages inherited from hunter-gatherers were more prevalent in the west.

The SUGRIGE Finno-Ugric genome project said its study is the most extensive investigation to date focusing on the ancient DNA of people inhabiting the region of Finland.

• From Archaeology World, news of an interesting find in Yorkshire:

2,500-Year-Old Chariot Found – Complete with Rider And Horses

The managing director of Persimmon Homes in Yorkshire confirmed that an archaeological discovery of significant importance had been made. That discovery is a horse-drawn chariot from the Iron Age.

He went on to say that excavation is ongoing by archaeologists who will date the find along with detailing it.

During the Iron Age, it was common practice to bury chariots. What the archaeologists were not expecting to find was the remains of the rider of the chariot and the horses that pulled it.

The find dated back to 500 BC and at the time it was the only find of the kind in 200 years. To date, there have only been 26 chariots excavated in the UK.

Archaeologists said that it was unusual for horses to be buried along with the chariot and human remains.

• Monica Green in Eidolon:

When Numbers Don’t Count: Changing Perspectives on the Justinianic Plague

The Justinianic Plague, the pandemic that brought waves of plague to western Eurasia between 541 to about 750 CE, has been a feature of narratives about the “decline and fall of the Roman Empire” ever since the eighteenth century, when Edward Gibbon featured Procopius’s vivid description of plague’s assault on Constantinople in 542 during the reign of the Emperor Justinian. For two centuries since Gibbon, the Justinianic Plague (“JP” for short) received a few passing nods in accounts of the period we now call “late antiquity.” But overall, it elicited little attention from historians. Even in my own training as a historian of medicine in the 1970s and ’80s, it was barely a blip on the radar.

Not anymore! The JP has been known for some time as the “First Plague Pandemic” because it was followed by two others: the Black Death in the mid-fourteenth century and the five-hundred-year reign of plague outbreaks it initiated in Eurasia and Africa, and then the Third Pandemic, which spread plague around the globe in the age of steamships at the turn of the twentieth century. (We have plague in Arizona, where I live, thanks to that last proliferation.)

All three pandemics, we know now, were caused by a single bacterium: Yersinia pestis. That finding is not actually surprising news, since Y. pestis’s role had been suspected ever since the bacterium was first discovered in 1894. Why, then, has the JP become a hot new topic, with more than a dozen new publications in the past five years, and more promised soon? For the same reason we often revisit old questions: because new evidence has become available. But some of that new evidence — in this case coming from genetics — is so new that most people don’t know what to make of it.

This might seem a debate of interest only to specialists in the history of medicine or demography and economics (who are concerned about assessing the pandemic’s effects on population levels), but for one urgent factor. The JP has now been linked to a pronounced change in climate that occurred in the sixth century. Indeed, such claims have been made for the Black Death, too. Does this mean that we should be looking at the events of the sixth century with new fearful eyes, scrutinizing the evidence for signs of disasters that might befall us, too? Perhaps not. The climate change that happened in the sixth century was global cooling, not warming. And viral diseases are a more likely threat to us than a bacterium like Y. pestis.

• From the BBC, some sad news:

Detectorists stole Viking hoard that ‘rewrites history’

Two metal detectorists stole a £3m Viking hoard that experts say has the potential to “rewrite history”.

George Powell and Layton Davies dug up about 300 coins in a field in Eye, near Leominster, Herefordshire, in 2015.

They did not declare the 1,100-year-old find, said to be one of the biggest to date, and instead sold it to dealers.

They were convicted of theft and concealing their find. Coin sellers Simon Wicks and Paul Wells were also convicted on the concealment charge.

The hoard included a 9th Century gold ring, a dragon’s head bracelet, a silver ingot and a crystal rock pendant. Just 31 coins – worth between £10,000 and £50,000 – and some pieces of jewellery have been recovered, but the majority is still missing.

During their trial at Worcester Crown Court, Powell, 38, of Newport, and Davies, 51, of Pontypridd, had denied deliberately ignoring the Treasure Act, which demands significant finds be declared.

Experts say the coins, which are Saxon and believed to have been hidden by a Viking, provide fresh information about the unification of England and show there was an alliance previously not thought to exist between the kings of Mercia and Wessex.

“These coins enable us to re-interpret our history at a key moment in the creation of England as a single kingdom,” according to Gareth Williams, curator of early medieval coins at the British Museum.

When Powell and Davies made their discovery in June 2015, they did not inform the farmer who owned the field and instead contacted dealers to find out the worth of the items.

A month later, they contacted the National Museum of Wales but only declared one coin each and three items of jewellery.

Both men claimed talk of a 300-coin hoard had been a rumour, but suspicions were aroused and police began to investigate. They recovered deleted photos on Davies’s phone which showed the hoard intact in a freshly dug hole.

• From the Norsk institutt for kulturminneforskning:

New ship burial found in Norway

A high-resolution georadar has detected traces of a ship burial and a settlement that probably dates to the Merovingian or Viking Period at Edøy in Møre and Romsdal County in Norway.

The discoveries were made by archaeologists from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU)

The archaeological prospection approach using large-scale high-resolution georadar measurements was developed by the LBI ArchPro research institute and its partners, including NIKU, using technology from Guideline Geo.

“This is incredibly exciting. And again, it’s the technology that helps us find yet another ship. As the technology is making leaps forward, we are learning more and more about our past,” says Dr. Knut Paasche, Head of the Department of Digital Archaeology at NIKU, and an expert on Viking ships.

“We only know of three well-preserved Viking ship burials in Norway, and these were excavated a long time ago. This new ship will certainly be of great historical significance and it will add to our knowledge as it can be investigated with modern means of archaeology,” says Paasche.

From Smithsonian Magazine:

Authorities Recover 10,000 Artifacts Stolen by International Antiquities Trafficking Ring

The organized crime group had connections across Italy, Britain, Germany, France and Serbia

On Monday, authorities busted an international archaeological crime scheme in a sting dubbed “Operation Achei.” Per a press release, more than 350 police officers across five countries worked together to recover 10,000 ancient Greek and Roman artifacts stolen from archaeological sites in the Calabria region of southern Italy.

The Italian Carabinieri Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage led the investigation with support from the European Union’s law enforcement agency, Europol. The Carabinieri’s “culture commandos” have the skills of “archaeologists, paleontologists, art historians and combat-trained shock troops,” wrote National Geographic’s Frank Viviano in 2015.

Operation Achei began in 2017 with a focus on Calabria, the “toe” of Italy’s boot-shaped peninsula. The artifact traffickers allegedly used a backhoe-like excavator to dig up sections of known archaeological sites near the Hera Lacinia, according to the Associated Press. They then sifted through the disturbed areas with sophisticated metal detectors, Italian police officials told the Guardians Lorenzo TondoThe illicit excavators wore ski masks to hide their identities, but during one heist, the license plate of a parked car showed up on the police’s drone video surveillance.

After collecting the artifacts, the group conveyed the items to people who could carry them abroad, “where they were put up for auction in important international auction houses and sold at very high figures,” the investigators said at a press conference reported by the Guardian.

Police from France, Britain, Germany and Serbia assisted Italian authorities with the operation. Eighty home searches yielded artifacts from as early as the 4th century B.C. The recovered items include ancient jars, plates and jewelry worth millions of euros.

“The damage caused to the Italian cultural heritage by this criminal group is very significant as … the criminals were looting archaeological sites for many years,” Europol says in the statement.

Two alleged leaders of the illegal archaeology scheme have been jailed, and 21 other suspects remain under house arrest in Italy.

Illegitimate archaeological digs are regular occurrences in Italy, but the Carabinieri are specifically trained to catch perpetrators. Officers must study art history, archaeology and international legal conventions at the University of Rome, as well as “demonstrate exceptional investigative skills,” Captain Lanfranco Disibio, leader of the squad for Tuscany and Umbria, told National Geographic’s Viviano in 2015In 2014 alone, Viviano notes, the officers recovered around 130,000 artifacts worth more than $500 million.

There is still plenty of work left to do: As the Guardian reports, more than one million Italian artifacts remain missing today.