Friday, October 31, 2014

The ‘Vampire of Vratsa’ ...

In July Bulgarian archaeologists " a medieval vampire burial site had been found during excavations of an ancient fortress near Vratsa" ...

Archaeology: Bulgaria’s ‘Vampire of Vratsa’ | The Sofia Globe:
Unlike the previously well-known method of disposing of vampires by driving a stake through the heart, the funeral ritual of the “Vampire of Vratsa” ... involved a boulder from the mountain. ... archaeologists have found the grave of an elderly man of a unusually tall height for the time, 1.8 metres. The burial site testifies to the special treatment of the deceased. On his heart, archaeologists found a deliberately placed processed white stone, said to be part of rituals against vampirism.
Archaeologist Alexandra Petrova told Bulgarian National Television that placing a stone on the chest, notably the left side where the heart is, was part of such a practice, that could also involve stabbing with a stake or iron knife. The aim was to prevent the deceased’s return to the world of the living, which in turn also could be done by putting a pet cat or chicken across the body. Such rituals would be carried out if the deceased was a stranger to the community, or loner or who had no one to watch over him at night. Another reason could be if the man, while alive, had been evil, thus prompting precautions against him coming back to cause mischief. In the case near Vratsa, there was apparently double insurance. This involved tying the feet to make the dead stumble if trying to return to the world of the living.

Archaeologists Uncover “Vampire” In Plovdiv

In August Bulgarian archaeologists unearthed another Vampire burial ...

Archaeologists Uncover “Vampire” Burial In Plovdiv - - Sofia News Agency:
One of the skeletons had a brick in its jaws and a roof tile on its head. “This is a typical European practice between XV – XVII c. and was done to prevent the dead from turning into a vampire,” the leader of the archaeological team Elena Bozhinova said. - See more at:

Blog Love: Discarding Images

Because what could be better than a Tumblr that posted weird and assorted little drawings from Medieval Manuscripts?

Discarding Images

For example ...

angry bats
'Northumberland Bestiary', London ca. 1250-1260.
LA, J. Paul Getty Museum, MS. 100, fol. 37r

medieval batman
Hans Vintler, Die pluemen der tugent, Vienna 1450.
Wien, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, cod. s. n. 12819, fol. 129r

oh hi there  
'The Dawnce of Makabre' from Carthusian miscellany, Yorkshire or Lincolnshire ca. 1460-1500.
BL, Add 37049, fol. 31v

Vampires and Garlic ...

Probably the only medical study of the effects of garlic on vampires:
Vampires are feared everywhere, but the Balkan region has been especially haunted. Garlic has been regarded as an effective prophylactic against vampires. We wanted to explore this alleged effect experimentally. Owing to the lack of vampires, we used leeches instead.
I use a lot of garlic in cooking. We don't keep crucifixes at home, but the garlic seems to have protected us from Vampires ... so far!

Since today is Halloween, we'll be going Vampire today with a series of posts covering everything about their archaeology.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Alpha TV etc

This is still baby steps - first I made my Twitter account public, then I started to talk to press ... the world has not collapsed. Although I still don't read or watch them, and I wish more of them would emphasise that I think the archaeologists at Amphipolis are amazing and doing all the hard work, apparently Social Media 101 is to also post links, so here goes:

Donna Yates on Christos Tsirogiannis

Dr Donna Yates would like me to make it clear that despite repeated claims, Christos Tsirogiannis is just a student with nothing to do with the Greek Ministry of Culture. She would also like me to make it clear that she was having a private conversation on Twitter that she just happened to keep Tweeting at me even though as she herself admits my account was then set to private and she couldn't read my Tweets, which was why she was quite happy to just insult me. She has made it clear that what she said was again wrong, and that Christos Tsirogiannis has only ever made general claims of looting at Amphipolis, and that she was  being incompetent spreading propaganda with very little tangential link to reality.

A vaguely incompetent student with a not particularly good Dr Yates seems like a rather rude way to describe Christos Tsirogiannis, but since Yates has been haranguing me to 'correct' myself, I am happy to indulge her and post her views.

My past experience of Yates has never been particularly positive. My past experience of Tsirogiannis was a conference last year where he spoke about a sculpture I had been instrumental in getting returned after the Libyan archaeologist had tried everyone else; he kept 'correcting' me and referred me to seek guidance from "the real expert" Peter Watson. I had not until that point been aware that Watson had even had any involvement with the sculpture, but expertise surely would have been getting it back to Libya?

Welcome to the world of people who fight looting by raising as much money as they can to go to conferences to talk about it, and who give as many versions as suit them rather than getting on with catching the looters.

Praise From Someone I Respect

My attitude to press and the internet is that it's better to ignore praise as well as condemnation, as both can drive you mad.

Yes, I looked a mess on Alpha TV as I've been ill and have a temperature, but I'm not vain enough to care. But I did try to 'pull myself together' as best I could in the twenty minutes between being told it was video not a phone call, and recording the segment - because I am vain enough to do that, didn't want to scare the viewers, and doing so is a common courtesy.

What I do appreciate is praise from someone I respect, and Adrian was kind enough to read the first few sections of the book. It's the first feed-back I've received, so I'm over the moon!

Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection

The early application period for the 2015 Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection is open through November 15, 2014.

Can you help us spread the word by forwarding the attached 2015 prospectus to persons interested in this field?

For a detailed prospectus and information on the application process interested individuals should contact us at:

The Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA) 2014 Postgraduate Certificate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection program will be held from May 29 through August 15, 2014 in the heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy.

In its seventh year, this academically intensive ten week program provides in-depth, postgraduate level instruction in a wide variety of theoretical and practical elements related to art and heritage crime. By examining art crime’s interconnected world, students experience an integrated curriculum in an interactive, participatory setting. The programs' courses include comprehensive multidisciplinary lectures, class discussions and presentations as well as field classes, which serve as the backdrop for exploring art crime, its nature, and impact. 

Each course associated with the program has been selected to underscore the value of, and necessity for, a longitudinal multidisciplinary approach to the study of this type of criminal behavior and enterprise.

This program has been designed to expose participants to an integrated curriculum occurring in a highly interactive, participatory, student-centered setting. Instructional modules include both lectures and “hands-on” learning in the form of case studies, presentations, in situ field classes and group discussions. At the end of the program, participants will have a solid mastery of a broad array of concepts pertaining to cultural property protection, preservation, conservation, and security.

Students explore such topics as:

                art crime and its history
                art and heritage law
                art crime in war
                the art trade
                art insurance
                museum security
                law enforcement methods
                archaeological looting and policy
                heritage looting
                art forgery


This interdisciplinary program offers substantive study for post-graduate students of criminology, law, security studies, sociology, art history, archaeology, and history as well as art police and security professionals, lawyers, insurers, curators, conservators, members of the art trade.

Important Dates

November 15, 2014 - Early Application Deadline
January 01, 2015 - General Application Deadline
February 01, 2014 - Late Application Deadline
April 2015 - Advance Reading Assigned
May 29, 2015 - Students Arrive in Italy
May 30031, 2015 - Program Orientation
June 1, 2015 - Classes Begin
August 7, 2015 - Classes End
August 8-15, 2015 - Students Housing Check-out **
Nov. 15, 2015 -Thesis Submission Deadline

**Some students stay a few days to one week longer to participate in the August Palio dei Colombi, Notte Bianca and Ferragosto festivities.

​a copy of the prospectus or ​
questions about programming, costs, and census availability, please write to us at:

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Great Resources

I still have not managed to do a proper review of the amazing iPad App that Princeton released late last year of the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World. But the book was extremely well regarded, and the App is even more useful when trying to look at ancient sites.

The direct Apple iTunes link.

Another App that I am enjoying is Historvius which is less academic but in other ways much more useful as the users have uploaded so many amazing photographs of archaeological sites, many of which are not easily accessible to most people.

The direct iTunes store link is here.

A Canaanite Egyptian Style ...

History is written by the victor. But what if there are two victors? As I discussed here the ancient Egyptian version was that they had expelled the nasty Jews that had invaded and stolen the throne ... whilst thanks to the Bible, the Jewish version is better known today; the Jews were the underdogs who fled Pharaoh to the Promised Land.

Relations didn't end there, although both versions of the story continued to be told for centuries, and archaeological evidence supports the Egyptian version because most of it comes from Egypt.

Was Ramesses II the Pharaoh of the Exodus? Or the Shishak who invade Judah? Which Pharaoh's daughter did Solomon marry? And was Rome really created by God as punishment for this? The questions are countless, as are the rabbis that have discussed them over the centuries - including many in ancient Alexandria which was by most reckonings one third Jewish.

Perhaps the most fascinating answers are coming from Israel, Palestine and Syria. A scarab of Hatshepsut could have been traded, but other finds suggest stronger contacts, for example this fascinating new burial.

The full press release:

Egyptian Greetings in the Jezreel Valley

A 3,300 Year Old Coffin was Exposed Containing the Personal Belongings of a Wealthy Canaanite – Possibly an Official of the Egyptian Army

Among the items discovered – a gold signet ring bearing the name of the Egyptian pharaoh Seti I

The rare artifacts were uncovered during excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority near Tel Shadud, prior to the installation of a natural gas pipeline to Ramat Gavriel by the Israel Natural Gas Lines Company

As part of a project by the Israel Natural Gas Lines Company (INGL) to construct a main pipeline that will convey natural gas to Ramat Gavriel, the Israel Antiquities Authority conducted a salvage excavation prior to the pipeline’s installation. During the course of the work, which was financed by the INGL, a fascinating and exceptional discovery was made.

Part of a burial site dating to the Late Bronze Age (thirteenth century BCE) was exposed in an excavation at the foot of Tel Shadud. According to the excavation directors, Dr. Edwin van den Brink, Dan Kirzner and Dr. Ron Be’eri of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “During the excavation we discovered a unique and rare find: a cylindrical clay coffin with an anthropoidal lid (a cover fashioned in the image of a person) surrounded by a variety of pottery consisting mainly of storage vessels for food, tableware, cultic vessels and animal bones. As was the custom, it seems these were used as offerings for the gods, and were also meant to provide the dead with sustenance in the afterlife.” The skeleton of an adult was found inside the clay coffin and next to it were buried pottery, a bronze dagger, bronze bowl and hammered pieces of bronze. “Since the vessels interred with the individual were produced locally”, the researchers say, “We assume the deceased was an official of Canaanite origin who was engaged in the service of the Egyptian government”. Another possibility is that the coffin belonged to a wealthy individual who imitated Egyptian funerary customs. The researchers add that so far only several anthropoidal coffins have been uncovered in the country. The last ones discovered were found at Deir el-Balah some fifty years ago. According to the archaeologists, “An ordinary person could not afford the purchase of such a coffin. It is obvious the deceased was a member of the local elite”.

The graves of two men and two women who may have been members of his family were also located near the coffin. The discovery of the coffin at Tel Shadud is evidence of Egyptian control of the Jezreel Valley in the Late Bronze Age (thirteenth century BCE). During the period when the pharaohs governed the country, Egyptian culture greatly influenced the local Canaanite upper class. Signs of Egyptian influence are occasionally discovered in different regions and this time they were revealed at Tel Shadud and in the special tomb of the wealthy Canaanite. A rare artifact that was found next to the skeleton is an Egyptian scarab seal, encased in gold and affixed to a ring. The scarab was used to seal documents and objects. The name of the crown of Pharaoh Seti I, who ruled ancient Egypt in the thirteenth century BCE, appears on the seal. Seti I was the father of Ramses II, identified by some scholars as the pharaoh mentioned in the biblical story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. Already in the first year of his reign (1294 BCE) a revolt broke out against Seti I in the Bet Sheʽan Valley. Seti conquered that region and established Egyptian rule in Canaan. Seti’s name on the seal symbolizes power and protection, or the strength of the god Ra – the Sun God – one of the most important deities in the Egyptian pantheon. The winged Uraeus (cobra), protector of the pharaoh’s name or of the sovereign himself, is clearly visible on the seal. The reference to the pharaoh Seti on the scarab found in the coffin aided the archaeologists in dating the time of the burial to the thirteenth century BCE – similar to the burials that were exposed at Deir el-Balah and Bet She‘an, which were Egyptian administrative centers.

A cemetery dating to the reign of Seti was previously discovered at Bet Sheʽan, the center of the Egyptian rule in the Land of Israel, and similar clay coffins were exposed. Evidence of an Egyptian presence was detected in archaeological surveys conducted in the Jezreel Valley in the past but the discovery of the impressive anthropoid at Tel Shadud surprised the archaeologists. Tel Shadud preserves the biblical name ‘Sarid’ and the mound is often referred to as Tel Sarid. The tell is situated in the northern part of the Jezreel Valley, close to Kibbutz Sarid. The city is mentioned in the Bible in the context of the settlement of the Tribes of Israel. Sarid was included in the territory of the tribe of Zebulun and became a border city, as written in the Book of Joshua: “The third lot came up for the tribe of Zebulun, according to its families. And the territory of its inheritance reached as far as Sarid…” (Joshua 19:10). Tel Shadud is strategically and economically significant because of its location alongside important roads from the biblical period.

The Israel Antiquities Authority is currently looking into the possibility of sampling the DNA from inside the coffin to see if the deceased was originally a Canaanite or an Egyptian person who was buried in Canaan.

Click here to download high resolution pictures:

1. The clay coffin at the time of its discovery in the field. Photograph: Dan Kirzner, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
2. Parts of the coffin’s lid after an initial cleaning. Photograph: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
3. A general view of the excavation area. Photograph: Skyview Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
4-5. The gold scarab. Photograph: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
6-7. A picture of the bronze dagger and bowl. Photograph: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Amphipolis: A Marks the Spot?

I'll quickly explain this again.

The marks I noticed were there, and not just like seeing things in clouds.

Mrs Medoni confirmed that the marks were made by masons not by accident, and that obviously the archaeologists were aware of them! As I keep saying these guys are very good, so I'm not pointing out anything they wouldn't know.

There is a difference between marks made by masons and "mason's marks" ...

Although a number of Greek buildings have letters on them loosely termed "mason's marks" that term is itself controversial and there are huge discussions going on between academics about what they were.

Were they guides for the builders to put the blocks in the right place? Possibly, but most buildings were finished in situ, with for example column flutes carved once all the drums were in place on the building.

Where they signatures? Sometimes this seems possible, although at other times - for example the idea that a Pi found on a lion from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus stands for Praxiteles (corrected - sorry am obsessing about Hecatomnus) - this seems highly imaginative rather than likely.

The most creative recent idea by a team of American scholars is that they were musical notes and that tholoi were designed to play music in. That's a little too creative for my liking, and I'm pretty sure we can agree that Amphipolis was neither a giant musical instrument nor a space for music recitals.

Also, "mason's marks" if they are used to located blocks in different areas of a monument are more likely to vary: eg Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta etc.

All the letters I've spotted in the photographs of Amphipolis seem to be Alphas or variations on Alphas.

When all the letters seem to be the same, it is far more likely to be a monogram. Although monograms on blocks are less common, there are very similar ones of Antigonus at Troy, and as I have noted before, the temple they are on was the one Alexander the Great requested in his will.

So, this was the very first photograph I looked at. It's on this web site, and I circled the part I would like to discuss. Ideally inscriptions are photographed with different light to make them clear, but this is a monogram which would have been covered in stucco.

This is a coin of Alexander the Great showing one of the monograms he used (source):

This is a coin of Philip III Arrhidaeus with the AT monogram that also appears on many coins with Alexander (source):

This is a coin of Antigonus I Monophthalmus with the AT monogram that also appears on many coins with Alexander (source):

Anyway, I do realise half of Greece is now going to be examining every block photograph under a microscope ... it may not be as exciting as an inscription saying "Alexander tied his horse up here and was buried at Amphipolis" ... but these sorts of monograms were important.

Taken alone they do not date or identify the building 100%, but they are almost certainly one of the many key pieces of evidence the excavators are using.

Here's the deal: I can't see the letters clearly enough to see if they are of Alexander the Great or of Antigonus, and I'm not even sure if they are all the same monogram or a couple of different ones. Antigonus would be amazing as it would mean he finished the tomb, the same way he tried to fulfill Alexander's wishes at Troy.

But, the one I highlighted above does seem to possibly have the same strange archaising bent bar as the ancestral inscription from the palace at Aegae.

 Again, this might be a trick of the light, and all will be revealed in due course!

Finally, there seem to be a lot of angry coin 'experts' saying these are not monograms but mint marks .... ouch. There are mint marks on coins to show where they were minted. But since Alexander the Great's image continued to be used on coins for centuries after his death by rulers that wanted to assert themselves as his heirs, they also added monograms to show who had ordered the coin to be struck.

Coins can have both mint marks and monograms on them! But since buildings were not minted, they don't have mint marks - just monograms.

People have always collected coins because they are a great way to get in touch with history, and coin collectors have put up an extraordinary amount of information on the internet. But ... some of it is more enthusiastic than accurate, so please be careful and as with Wikipedia check to make sure it is correct.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Amphipolis ...

... ain't over yet.

Look, they are still digging as the press release made clear, and will continue digging for a dew years, if not decades.

I'm still trying to take it easy to get over the 'flu and a fever, and get on with writing, so please don't read too much into this, but as I've replied to questions in the posts.

Based on my experience with other similar tombs, there are probably many more letter / mason's marks / mongrams / whatever you want to call them on other blocks, and if people want to pore through the photographs released I know you'll find another one.

Based on other examples, and the fact that there was a lion on a base on top of the mound, I'd bet that there was other architectural sculpture on the exterior, for example it would be highly surprising if there were not a frieze. Since the lion etc were found some way from Kasta, the archaeologists will be looking around the area.

The chambers were probably used for a cult of Alexander whilst they waited for his body to come home. The items once in there would have been removed before it was filled with soil to prevent it collapsing.

The weight of the mound should not have been enough to make the chamber collapse if there rest of the core was solid, so it is possible that there were other sets of rooms in the mound.

It is highly likely that there were other structures, whether the sarcophagi of later deceased or naiskoi to heroes and gods, around such an important tomb, and I am sure the archaeologists would have been looking for these and  mapping them.

Also based on parallels with the mound at Vergina, although there won't be remains from the pyre since there wasn't one, there are likely to be painted stele and other items deposited there.

 Again, this is not based on leaks. I have eyes, I've been doing this a long time, and I'm good at it.

The short version is that the empty rooms and dead end support a cenotaph and heroon for Alexander the Great, which was not reused for anyone else since doing so with such an important tomb might have seemed presumptuous.

More soon ;-)

Letters at Amphipolis Confirmed

Mrs Mendoni has confirmed that the letter I pointed out in a photo is indeed there, and probably a mason's mark dating the building. Press report here.

I'm going to stop using puns like "hold your horses" which just means to be patient, but which I realise is open to interpretation ... and try to be clear.

This sort of mark is not like seeing things in clouds, but is easy to spot if you're an archaeologist - and that's why I've been trying to explain the finds.

That's the easy part - doing the research and explaining the finds, and it is very easy for me to do from the photos being released without being on site. It doesn't need leaks if you're good at what you do, and can recognise something seen on many other buildings.

The hard work is what those on the site are doing - not just Dr Peristeri and architect Lefantzis, who get the credit, but every single person on the team including the too often overlooked technicians who are some of the most skilled in the world.

Broneer on the Amphipolis Lion

The book is in libraries, but for those that don't have access or for those irritated someone else has the library's copy, the book is available here in full and online thanks to the Hathi Trust.

The Lion Monument at Amphipolis, by Oscar Broneer, 1941.

Amphipolis News - The Wings

Today the MC released a short film about Amphipolis: Υπουργείο Πολιτισμού και Αθλητισμού - Βίντεο από ανασκαφικές εργασίες στην Αμφίπολη

And this press release: Υπουργείο Πολιτισμού και Αθλητισμού - Σημεία ενημέρωσης από την κ. Άννα Παναγιωταρέα και την Γ.Γ. κ. Λίνα Μενδώνη στην Αμφίπολη

I think this is pretty self-explanatory and the reconstruction shows how the head fits into the socket of the Sphinx, and how the wings were originally.

I am aware of a "leak" that's out there on the internet that a Nike statue was found. The reason people should ignore leaks is because ... when part of a wing was found last year, everyone assumed it was from a statue of Nike. When you hear hooves you think horses not zebras! But obviously further clarification has shown that the wing was from a zebra sphinx.

The head was originally carved separately and inserted into the socket to join the two pieces together - the technique is well known in sculpture and called "piecing" ... I am aware the head didn't look quite right on some fan made reconstructions, but there is no doubt that they fit together.

The right Sphinx faces forwards. It will be interesting to see if the left one does too, or if as on the throne it faces its pair.