The Mystery of the Monks and the Medieval Porpoise

This might sound like the set-up for a bizarre crime novel set in the medieval period, but it’s entirely non-fictional: this week’s UK archaeology news is that archaeologists excavating a medieval religious site on a tidal island called Chapelle Dom Hue, just off Guernsey, found what was clearly a grave cut into the ground — and excavated it to find, not the remains of a monk who might have lived on the island, but the skeleton of a porpoise:

As you can imagine, the archaeologists are feeling pretty perplexed right now – was this porpoise actually buried for some kind of religious reason, or for the more mundane purpose of preserving it in salt to eat later? Personally, I like the suggestion given in this article that it’s “possible that a monk hid the body of the porpoise because he was not supposed to have it” – I can just see some poor medieval monk who’s sick and tired of living off bread and water sneaking out in the middle of the night to make a secret food cache. Hopefully further excavation and analysis of the bones might tell us some more, but in the meantime, what’s your theory about the Mysterious Medieval Porpoise?

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Excavation of a new Mycenaean tomb

An international team of archaeologists including several Cambridge staff and students have just announced the discovery and excavation of one of the largest and best preserved Mycenaean chamber tombs ever found in mainland Greece. There’s a full report and some great pictures here:

via Major archaeological discovery near Orchomenos in Boeotia, central Greece

More news on the Vindolanda writing tablets

I recently shared news of a newly-discovered writing tablet from the Roman fort of Vindolanda: now the excavation team have released a press release and it turns out they’ve found a whole cache of 25 tablets, all written in ink, some of which they’ve already been able to (partly) read. More information will have to wait until the tablets have been conserved and photographed, but for now here’s the press releasehere’s the press release (with some nice photographs!)

Reconstructing ancient music

I’ve just been introduced (via a post shared by our Faculty library) to the European Music Archaeology Project, who are reconstructing all sorts of different ancient musical instruments and then playing them. Check out their Youtube channel for a long list of videos of instruments from prehistoric and classical Europe and the Middle East – or here are a couple of classical ones, an ancient Greek aulos (double flute) and some Etruscan trumpets!

 

A new writing tablet from Vindolanda!

The Vindolanda Trust has tweeted this picture of a writing tablet found yesterday in the current excavations at the Roman fort:

The tablet looks beautifully well preserved – in the picture you can clearly see the indentation in the middle which would have held the wax for writing on (unlike most of the tablets found at Vindolanda, which were written in ink). We’ll presumably have to wait until the tablet is cleaned and conserved to find out whether there are any traces of writing preserved on the wood – which happens when the stylus went right through the wax and scratched the wood underneath – and whether they’re at all readable (as some of the stylus tablets found in London have been). Fingers crossed…

Ugaritic Clay Play Day

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Ugaritic abecedarium: drawing above, my attempt at copying below.

It’s become a tradition for Cambridge classical linguists to get together in Easter term and attempt to read inscriptions in languages most of us know nothing about, so this term Philip Boyes has been leading sessions on the ancient Semitic language Ugaritic. Related to modern languages like Hebrew and Arabic, and other ancient Near Eastern languages like Phoenician, Ugaritic was spoken in an area of what’s now northern Syria. The written evidence comes from several archives of clay tablets in the city of Ugarit – these cover a wide range of genres, from administrative texts to letters to poetry. Continue reading “Ugaritic Clay Play Day”

Frescoes in the Roman Catacombs

A couple of days ago we had some exciting news about new Roman finds in Britain; now here’s some even more exciting archaeology news from Rome itself. Frescoes in the Catacombs of Domitilla, just outside the city, have been restored to show images and inscriptions which provide new evidence for life in Rome in the 3rd-4th centuries CE – from the organisation of the communal corn dole to the role of Christianity in the city at this period – plus graffiti left by the catacombs’ first excavators in the 17th century. Details and some nice pictures here. This is definitely going on my list of things to see in Rome!