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

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!

Roman baths discovered in Carlisle

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Archaeologist Kevin Mounsey holds a Roman water pipe (from the News & Star)

Some exciting news from the north of England – the remains of a Roman bathhouse have been found underneath a cricket pavilion in the city of Carlisle. The baths are thought to be associated with a nearby fort on Hadrian’s Wall. Here‘s the BBC report, and the local News & Star paper has more details and pictures here (including the one on the right, featuring the archaeologist in charge of the dig holding a rather nice Roman water pipe). Hopefully the site will be open to visitors in the future!

Sensational new Linear B tablet discovery in Athens

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Linear B tablet (replica)

Archaeologists working on a rescue excavation in Athens city centre have just announced the discovery of a series of clay tablets inscribed in the Linear B script, the first to be found in the city. The tablets date from the end of the Bronze Age, c.1200 BCE, and provide exciting new evidence for ritual practices in Mycenaean Greece. According to the excavation director, Professor Ilithios Apriliou, the texts refer to a ritual taking place on the first day of the month Apate, tentatively identified as the fourth month of the Mycenaean year. Participants in the ritual are recorded as receiving varying quantities of barley, while other tablets list offerings of wine and olive oil to the god Hermes (Hermahas in Mycenaean Greek). The most enigmatic of the tablets appears to act as an introduction to the whole series; while much of its text is currently obscure, Prof. Apriliou believes it describes a part of the ritual in which participants compete to tell the most outrageous stories in honour of the trickster god Hermes. The tablet is, however, badly damaged, and this interpretation relies heavily on Prof. Apriliou’s suggested restorations; an alternative reading, in which the festival is simply opened by a council of elders, is equally possible, and only close further study – and, it is to be hoped, further discoveries of tablets – will reveal the true nature of this mysterious ancient celebration.

Update: some helpful explanations (and a few more classical news items from April 1st) here!

Blog round-up: from PhDs to SF

A quick round-up of some recent blog posts by friends and colleagues that I think are worth checking out! I recently linked to some good advice for new graduate students from Res Gerendae; here’s another similar post from Katherine McDonald (featuring some more good advice re work/life balance, and a cute picture of a mouse).

Fans of Mycenopoly, or of board games in general, will enjoy this post by Daniel Unruh about the ‘gods playing games’ motif – when gods are depicted as playing board games to control human lives (as frequently seen in the Discworld, for example, or the classic film Jason and the Argonauts).

Finally, one for the SF fans: an interesting pair of posts by Philip Boyes on the close but problematic relationship between science fiction and archaeology: Part 1 and Part 2.

Oh, and here is a picture of a cat, because every blog post is improved by a picture of a cat:

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Happy reading!

‘If the shoe fits’…Roman shoes at Vindolanda

A brief note to share some exciting news from the Roman fort of Vindolanda (home of the famous writing tablets), where this year’s excavations have produced 421 Roman shoes, including children’s shoes and even baby boots! More details and some wonderful pictures on the Vindolanda blog.