Archaeologists discover 300 burials in ancient Merovingian necropolis

Archaeologists discover 300 burials in ancient Merovingian necropolis

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Archaeologists carrying out excavations at a site in Saint-Aubin-des-Champs in France have uncovered an ancient Merovingian necropolis dating back to the 5 th-7th centuries AD, according to a report in Past Horizons . The Merovingian dynasty was an early dynasty that ruled over the confederation of Germanic peoples known as the Franks for nearly 300 years in a region known as Francia in Latin, beginning in the middle of the 5th century AD. The discovery sheds light on a little known period in history.

Mythologized and circumscribed for over 1500 years, the Merovingians were a powerful Frankish dynasty, which exercised control much of modern-day France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and the Low Countries. During the Early Middle Ages, the Merovingian kingdoms were arguably the most powerful and most important polities to emerge after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, blending Gallo-Roman institutions with Germanic Frankish customs.

The Merovingians are extensively featured in the book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. The authors claim they were descended from Jesus and survived their deposition in 751. The book was later revealed to be based on a hoax originating with Pierre Plantard in the mid-20th century. The Merovingians are also linked with the Jesus bloodline in the popular novel and motion picture The Da Vinci Code, which used The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail as one of its sources.

More than 300 graves of men, women, and children, were uncovered at the cemetery, with each consisting of a skeleton, which had once been held within a wooden coffin, as well as numerous grave goods, such as ceramics, glassware, weapons, belts, buckles, coins, and even shoes. The burials can be divided into three main categories: pre-Christian graves dating to 5 th century AD, which contain the most number of artifacts and ornaments; Christian graves containing fewer grave goods dating to 6 th century AD; and 7 th century burials characterized by individuals wearing simply or highly decorated belt buckles of bronze or iron.

Merovingian belt buckles. Photo source: Wikimedia

The graves reflect massive societal changes that took place in the region between 5 th and 7 th centuries AD. After the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, the Merovingian monarchy was firmly established by King Clovis (481-511). At first Clovis ruled over both the Franks and native Gallo-Romans in north-eastern Gaul. Around 500 he converted to Christianity. Clovis was soon followed in his faith by the rest of the Franks, and this helped integrate them with the native population. The Franks and Romans were free to intermarry and many Roman customs and institutions were preserved. Clovis was made an honorary consul by the Eastern Emperor and he made his capital at Paris.

Frequent wars eventually weakened royal power, and kings were increasingly pushed into a ceremonial role. In fact, later kings are known as rois fainéants ("do-nothing kings"). Very little is known about the course of the 7 th century dur to a scarcity of sources, but Merovingian rule finally ended in March 752 AD when Pope Zachary formally deposed the king, Childeric III. Zachary's successor, Pope Stephen II, confirmed and anointed Pepin the Short in 754, beginning the Carolingian monarchy.

Merovingian Kings, who wore long hair as a symbol of their power. Image source .

According to Past Horizons, “the discoveries from this funerary complex are particularity important because it was never looted, therefore all the burials and funerary goods are preserved to an exceptional level, providing a total record of three centuries of life and death in the region.

This will provide valuable archaeological information about a period which is poorly documented… and will allow researchers to conduct a comprehensive study on the history and lifestyle of this community and will become a major reference in the study of burial practices in Lower Normandy, during the period that witnessed the transitional period between the end of the Roman Empire and the beginnings of Christianity and medieval Europe.”

Featured image: One of the burials uncovered in the Merovingian necropolis. Credit: Hervé Paitier, Inrap.

French Archaeologists Discover Beautifully Preserved Deformed Skull

Normally, intentionally elongated or flattened skulls are associated with ancient Mesoamerican cultures . But this exquisite specimen, which dates back some 1,500 years, was recently found at a dig in Alsace, France.

Deformed skulls discovered in 1,000-year-old Mexican cemetery

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The History Blog does a good round-up of the various items found, including a Bronze Age grave containing both children and dogs, Gallic glass ornaments, coins, pottery, and a Gallo-Roman bathing complex.

But the Merovingian finds were among the most fascinating. The Merovingians were a Salin Frankish dynasty that ruled the Franks region of France for 300 years from the 5th to 8th century.

In a necropolis containing 18 west-east burials, a woman was found buried with a rich assortment of grave goods, like gold pins, two chatelains (chains suspended from a belt that held practical objects for household use), a silver mirror, beads of glass and amber, a comb made from deer antler, a set of tweezers, and an earscoop (which were popular at the time). Needless to say, this was a very important person — most likely a very high ranking woman.

But what really identified her as a well-born individual was her ovoid skull, the result of intentional cranial deformation — the practice of binding the head of infants with straps or cradleboards to elongate and flatten their skulls. This was practiced extensively in Europe, Africa, Asia, and as noted, South America.

Image: Reconstruction of a Hunnish woman with artificial cranial deformation (unrelated to this particular dig). Credit: Marcel Nyffenegger:

This practice distinguished the elites and affirmed their social status. Similar graves, which are usually isolated, have been discovered in Northern Gaul, Germany and eastern Europe. They are accompanied by abundant grave goods. They thus appear to be the graves of high dignitaries and their families, of eastern origin, incorporated into the Roman army during the “great migrations”. The Obernai necropolis is one of the few large groups of discovered in France. It is the first evidence of the presence of an eastern community over a long period of time in Alsace at the end of the Roman Empire.

Archaeologists Excavate Anthropomorphic Stele at Roman Necropolis

Archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology at the Russian Academy of Science have discovered a Roman necropolis in the Crimea, containing anthropomorphic gravestones and stele.

During the Roman period, the Crimea (called Taurica) was part of the Bosporan Kingdom, a suzerainty state submissive to Roman rule. It was briefly incorporated as part of the Roman province of Moesia Inferior from 63 to 68 AD, before being restored as a Roman client kingdom.

The discovery was made during excavations of the Kil-Dere 1 burial site, in preparation for a new highway near the town of Inkerman 5 kilometres east of Sevastopol.

Kil-Dere 1 and associated burial sites nearby, probably relate to the ancient city of Tauric Chersonesos on the shore of the Black Sea, first founded by settlers from Heraclea Pontica in Bithynia in the 6th century BC.

Unfortunately, the team found that the necropolis had already been targeted by illegal excavations and treasure hunters, with over 120 shafts and pits being excavated with modern digging equipment. Of the 232 burials studied by the team, only 14 remained intact with no evidence of disturbance.

In the course of documenting the wider site, the team discovered 63 tombstones of varying types, consisting of anthropomorphic stele, grave stele depicting masks, and the bases for steles.

The Institute of Archaeology RAS said in a press statement: “It is the most significant collection of tombstones ever obtained during the excavation of the Late Scythian burial grounds of the Crimea of the Roman period: only 15 such tombstones have been found in the nearest large and well-known necropolises.”

Archaeologists have also discovered more than 1200 grave goods at Kil-Dere 1, consisting of small decorative objects with precious metals, to ceramic red-lacquered plates, jugs and bowls.

An Institute of Archaeology RAS spokesperson stated that the grave goods allow archaeologists to build a chronology of the ethnic population inhabiting the region, suggesting that Kil-Dere 1 was active as a burial site from the 1st – 2nd century, until the 4th century AD.

Header Image Credit : Science Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Treasure Hunters Expose Necropolis of Burial Mounds after Their Arrest in Southern Bulgaria

Two treasure hunters have been arrested while digging near a chapel in Southern Bulgaria leading the archaeologists examining the site to discover that the looters had actually exposed a necropolis of ancient burial mounds.

The two men aged 54 and 61 were arrested in early May during illegal excavations close to the St. Nedelya (Holy Sunday) chapel in the town of Brod, Dimitrovgrad Municipality, Haskovo District, in Southern Bulgaria, close to the Maritsa River, in a region was historically part of Ancient Thrace, and, in particular, of the Ancient Thracian Odrysian Kingdom (5 th century BC – 1 st AD).

“We are witnessing just another treasure hunting raid, so to say, which, however, has been intercepted successfully by the police this time,” Stanislav Iliev, archaeologist and head curator at the Archaeology section of the Haskovo Regional Museum of History, has told BNT.

“This is a site of burial mounds. For the time being, we are unable to say what period they date back from because we are just about to examine the necropolis and the material that has been mined there,” he adds.

Neli Krasteva, an archaeologist from the Dimitrovgrad Museum of History, points out that there are many legends about the site where the treasure hunters have been arrested because it is considered a holy place.

Before they were busted, the two arrested treasure hunters had dug up a hole that was 5 meters deep and 1.5 meters wide. The police have found their shovels and pickaxes near the hole, and a metal detector in their car.

Each one of what seem to be five burial mounds located near one another near the chapel in the town of Brod appear to bear traces from treasure hunting raids. The entire site of the ancient necropolis is yet to be thoroughly explored by archaeologists.

The destruction of archaeological sites for treasure hunting purposes is punishable with 1 to 6 years in prison and a fine of up to BGN 50,000 (EUR 25,000) under Bulgarian law but first-time offenders usually get away with suspended sentences.

A total of five burial mounds have been identified around the site where the arrest has been made. Photos: TV grabs from BNT

Treasure hunting targetting archaeological sites is a rampant crime in Bulgaria and takes its horrendous toll on the country’s enormous cultural and historical heritage on a daily basis.

The combined amount of smuggled archaeological artifacts “mined” in Bulgaria is often estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of euros / dollars per year.

Bulgarian archaeologists are often pitted against treasure hunters in real life, trying to save whatever can be saved before or after the latter’s destructive raids against Bulgaria’s tens of thousands of archaeological, historical, and cultural sites.

Unfortunately, the public tolerance for the treasure hunting crimes in Bulgaria remains rather high, law enforcement fails to crack down on them sufficiently and is often suspected of collaborating with the respective organized crime groups, and many people in the countryside see treasure hunting as a form of decent full or part time employment.

Learn more in the Background Infonotes below!

Treasure hunting and illegal trafficking of antiques have been rampant in Bulgaria after the collapse of the communism regime in 1989 (and allegedly before that). Estimates vary but some consider this the second most profitable activity for the Bulgarian mafia after drug trafficking.

An estimate made in November 2014 by the Forum Association, a NGO, suggests its annual turnover amounts to BGN 500 million (app. EUR 260 million), and estimates of the number of those involved range from about 5 000 to 200 000 – 300 000, the vast majority of whom are impoverished low-level diggers.

According to an estimate by Assoc. Prof. Konstantin Dochev, head of the Veliko Tarnovo Office of the Sofia-based National Institute and Museum of Archaeology, up to USD 1 billion worth of archaeological artifacts might be smuggled out of Bulgaria annually.

According to the estimate of another archaeologist from the Institute, Assoc. Prof. Sergey Torbatov, there might be as many as 500,000 people dealing with treasure hunting in Bulgaria.

The History Blog

/>Archaeologists have discovered an exceptionally large and diverse ancient necropolis in the center of Bordeaux. The site, known as Castéja, hosted the first school for deaf girls in France (the main building built in 1862 is a historic monument). More recently it was the city’s central police station. The police station was closed in 2003 and in 2014 the property was sold to developers for an ambitious mixed incoming housing project. An archaeological survey was commissioned in advance of new construction.

/>So far around 40 graves containing the skeletal remains of about 300 people have been unearthed. Archaeologist and excavation director Xavier Perrot thinks the number of burials will increase as the excavation proceeds, perhaps even doubling. The burials begin in late antiquity (the 4th century) and continue through the early Middle Ages. There are a variety of tombs: ancient tile graves, amphora burials for babies, inhumations with traces of wooden coffins, brick-lined burial pits. Archaeologists also found two Merovingian-era sarcophagi and some very rare medieval coins.

/>The contents of the graves are unusually diverse for the period. Some are individual burials, while others contain multiple bodies piled on top of each other in a haphazard fashion. They appear to have been tossed in the grave hastily, which suggests they have been victims of mass violence, or more likely, of an epidemic. The Plague of Justinian, a pandemic that swept through the Byzantine Empire before spreading to the Mediterranean port cities and the rest of Europe in the mid-6th century, is a possible culprit. The remains will be subjected to a battery of laboratory tests to determine the dates of those burials and identify the epidemic, should there be one to identify.

/>Very few burial grounds this densely packed with remains are extant from antiquity. There are maybe three or four comparable sites in France and one in Bavaria, and none of those are as large as the Bordeaux find.

/>“This is an important operation. We see the evolution of the urban fabric and changes in burial arrangements with inhumations in the ground, in coffins, sarcophagi, a funerary space that evolves with a pit, multiple burials”, said Nathalie Fourment, regional curator of archeology at the regional Direction of Cultural Affairs (DRAC).

Excavations began early last month and were originally scheduled to end on January 20th, but because of the importance of the find, DRAC is negotiating an extension with property owner Gironde Habitat.

This entry was posted on Sunday, December 11th, 2016 at 11:58 PM and is filed under Ancient, Medieval. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Archaeologists Uncover 400 Tombs In Ancient Burial Ground

The tombs were part of an Islamic necropolis in an 8th century burial ground, which spans across five acres in Tauste, near Aragon.

Arab forces had conquered the Iberian Peninsula by 711, however Muslim occupation of areas such as Tauste was virtually left out of the history books, despite the area’s cultural association and architectural clues pointing in the direction of Islam.

El Patiaz Asociacion Cultural

These Islamic communities lived in the Iberian Peninsula until 1492, when the area was completely regained by Christian kingdoms, however, many of their human remains and unique architecture remained.

During this time, the boundaries between the Christian north and the Islamic south are believed to have shifted significantly, as a result of the changing sovereign authority.

Miriam Pina Pardos, director of the Anthropological Observatory of the Islamic Necropolis of Tauste with the El Patiaz cultural association, told CNN that they first excavated the site in 2010, when they discovered a five-acre necropolis, which was split between two levels.

El Patiaz Asociacion Cultural

Carbon dating revealed the necropolis dates back to somewhere between the 8th and 11th century.

Prior to the most recent dig, archaeologists had found 44 skeletons in the necropolis. However, this was just a drop in the iceberg compared to the 4,500 plus bodies that have since been located in the area, after local authorities ordered another excavation.

Archaeologists Discover Important Etruscan-Roman Cemetery With Strange Burials In Corsica

In southern Aléria, on the island of Corsica, a homeowner planning to build a new house discovered that dozens of people already resided there -- in a massive ancient cemetery dating to Etruscan and Roman times.

Archaeologists Laurent Vidal and Catherine Rigeade with INRAP (Institut National de Recherches Archéologique Préventives) have headed the Aléria project since June 2018, uncovering a remarkable number of well-preserved skeletons from Corsica's ancient history. The excavation has so far covered 2.5 acres of land just east of the ancient city, called Alalia by the Romans.

Located on the easternmost part of Corsica, modern Aléria has just 2,000 occupants, but was a key coastal town with habitation dating back to the Neolithic period. It was, at different times in history, colonized by the Greeks, Etruscans, Carthaginians, and Romans. After Alalia was sacked by the Vandals in 465 AD, it did not fully recover as a city until the mid-20th century when malaria was eradicated.

From the 1950s to the 1980s, archaeological work at Aléria has revealed vestiges of the ancient Roman town as well as quite a lot of earlier evidence of Etruscan occupation and maritime trading networks. An Etruscan necropolis in Casabianda dating from the 6th to 3rd centuries BC was discovered, which boasted hundreds of burials with grave goods of jewelery, weapons, bronze, and ceramics. A later Roman cemetery was found in these early archaeological investigations as well.

Today, work by INRAP is ongoing in Corsica in order to "allow us to shed light on our understanding of the ancient occupation of Corsica, and more precisely the diverse exchanges with the Mediterranean world that highlight their extraordinary wealth," project personnel announced in a press release put out this week.

The recently uncovered cemetery is somewhat unique: there is a significant density of well-preserved tombs that were used over the course of several centuries, from the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD. Many tombs are complex, with brick walls, roofs, and numerous grave goods.

Aléria archaeological site. Stairs to the hypogeum can be seen in the middle of the excavated area.

Archaeologists were in for a surprise, however. In the deepest layers of the cemetery, they found a hypogeum. This underground tomb structure consists of a staircase that leads down into, presumably, a massive chamber underneath the earth. The hypogeum has actually not yet been excavated, with the earthen stairs tantalizing the archaeologists.

"These graves are likely to accommodate several dead," archaeologist Laurent Vidal told the Corsican news outlet Corse Matin, and "because of the expense that was required, they were reserved for people of high social standing in the local society - not necessarily a member of the elite, but perhaps a prosperous merchant."

The structure may date to the 5th-4th centuries BC because of ceramics found in the area, Vidal said. It was a key time period, when the Corsican coast was fought over by the Etruscans and the Greeks. The presence of an Etruscan-style hypogeum is therefore of great importance to understanding this culturally complex time. Further, a discovery of this nature hasn't been found on Corsica in half a century and "its importance is considered exceptional within the western Mediterranean," the INRAP press release notes.

Left: Burial in a brick tomb.Right: Burial in a wood tomb.

Skeletons discovered at the site may also help shed light on Corsica's past. Bioarchaeologist Catherine Rigeade, who is in charge of the human remains, told Corse Matin that "the techniques we use have obviously evolved significantly from those used in the 1960s." From osteological identification of biological sex to DNA analysis and disease identification, Rigeade plans to employ 21st century techniques to the human skeletal elements.

The bioarchaeological analysis of the skeletons will be very welcome, as several of the burials appear to be anomalous or what European archaeologists sometimes call deviant. One INRAP photo depicts a possible double burial in which the people are positioned head-to-foot and one of them is face-down. Another photograph reveals a stone-lined tomb that appears to have been too small for its occupant -- whose legs are missing below the top of the thigh bones. Osteological analysis seems to be ongoing at this time.

Elena Varotto, a bioarchaeologist at the University of Catania in Sicily not involved in this project, agrees that the burials and the hypogeum are important. "Through the implementation of a full set of anthropological analyses, it may shed light onto the biological history of this population, particularly during an important time of historical transition for the island," Varotto told me by email. She also also speculates that "the good state of preservation of the skeletal remains could help anthropologists decipher ancient lifestyles and health conditions."

Excavation and research in Aléria are ongoing by INRAP, which carries out hundreds of archaeological projects each year in France and abroad, making it the largest organization in the field of European archaeology. Results of the Aléria project will be disseminated to the public following analysis and interpretation by INRAP archaeologists.

Archaeologists Discover 27 New Tombs In Egyptian Burial Site

Archaeologists have found 27 Egyptian tombs that are said to have been buried more than 2,500 years ago.

At first, it was thought that there were 13 sarcophogi at the site in Saqqara, which is just south Cairo, but, a further 14 were discovered afterwards.

Experts say the find is the biggest of its kind, adding that the sarcophogi have been left untouched for all this time.

Credit: Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities

Egypt's Antiquity Ministry said in a statement: "Initial studies indicate that these coffins are completely closed and haven't been opened since they were buried."

Photos of the site show the well-preserved coffins which have been painted colourfully. They are made of wood and there are other smaller artefacts around them.

Credit: Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities

The site at Saqqara is a designated Unesco World Heritage Site and was active as a burial ground for 3,000 years.

The new find was discovered after a team dug 36ft down in to the ground. They are continuing to investigate the full history of the site with the discoveries acting as a way to promote tourism, since the industry has been hit heavily by Covid-19.

The Ministry of Antiquities has said that there will be further announcements expected over the next few days.

Just last week it was announced that the first 13 had been found. With the coffins remaining sealed, they could offer an impressive insight into the past.

Credit: Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities

Egypt's Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said the coffins were found stacked on top of each other and were discovered 11 metres underground.

Khaled Al-Anani, the minister of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, wrote on Twitter: "[It's] an indescribable feeling when you witness a new archeological discovery."

This represents the largest find in Saqqara since last year, when 30 coffins were discovered in a cache at Al-Assasif cemetery inside the necropolis.

According to Science Alert, experts believe Saqqara served as the large cemetery for Memphis, which was the capital of ancient Egypt.

For 3,000 years, Egyptians would put their dead inside the massive burial site, as well as their prized possessions and their mummified animals.

Archaeologists have not only the ancient society's high nobility inside the coffins in the past but also people from the middle or working class. Who knows what treasures await researchers for this new batch of 13 coffins that have been sealed for so long.

Archaeologists find Ancient Egyptian Necropolis With 1,000 Statues and 40 Well-Preserved Sarcophagi

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Egyptian archaeologists have discovered an ancient necropolis near the city of Menia, south of Cairo.

In the eight tombs of the funeral city, archaeologists have found more than a thousand statues and four dozen sarcophagi in pristine condition.

The archaeological site is located six kilometers north of another archaeological site called Tuna al-Gabal. The excavation work is scheduled to last for 5 years, in an attempt to uncover all burials in the cemetery, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.

Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani said: “We will need at least five years to work on the necropolis. This is only the beginning of a new discovery.”

Image Credit: EPA

For the moment, the archaeological mission has found a group of tombs and burials belonging to the priests of the ancient Egyptian god Thoth, the main deity of nome 15 (administrative division in ancient Egypt) whose capital was al-Ashmounein.

One of the uncovered tombs belongs to a high priest of the god Thoth, Hersa-Esei.

The tomb houses 13 burials in which archaeologists discovered a large number of shabti figures carved in earthenware.

Minya is located about 250 kilometers south of the Egyptian capital Cairo. Image Credit: EPA

Experts also found a collection of 1,000 statuettes in very good condition, while the rest of the statuettes were found fragmented into smaller pieces. The researchers are collecting all their pieces for restoration.

Archaeologists also came across four canopic jars made of alabaster with lids showing the faces of the four sons of God Horus.

Archaeologists report that the jars are in a very good condition and still contain the mummified internal organs of the deceased. The jars are decorated with hieroglyphic texts that show the name and the different titles of its owner, the high priest ‘Djehuty-Irdy-e’, whose mummy was also found.

Image Credit: Alamy Live News

Archaeologists note that the mummy of high priest ‘Djehuty-Irdy-e’ is decorated with a bronze necklace that represents the ancient Egyptian God Nut stretching his wings to protect the deceased according to the ancient Egyptian belief.

The mummified remains are also decorated with a collection of precious pearls, as well as golden bronze leaves, two eyes carved in bronze and adorned with ivory and crystal pearls.

Four amulets of semi-precious stones were also found on the mummy. It is also decorated with hieroglyphic texts, one of which is engraved with a phrase saying: “happy new year”.

Image Credit: Alamy Live News

Archaeologists also came across 40 limestone sarcophagi of different shapes and sizes.

Some of them were found having anthropoid tops decorated with the names and different titles of their owners.

Another discovered family tomb houses a collection of gigantic sarcophagi of different shapes and sizes, with ushabti figures bearing the names of their owners who were priests of the gods during their lifetime.

In Egypt, discovered 300 tombs, carved into the rock during the Old Kingdom: photo

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Egyptian archaeologists have discovered a new piece of their country’s history. In the city of Sohag, about 300 ancient tombs were found, carved right into the rock. According to preliminary estimates of scientists, the burials were made during the period of the Old Kingdom (about 2000 BC). This is stated on the website of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.

The tombs were discovered during excavations of an ancient necropolis, they differed from each other in architectural style and were dug at different levels of the rock.

Among the burials found, the sloped tomb was especially distinguished, which was equipped with a false door and an additional side entrance leading to a gallery with a grave shaft.

In addition to tombs, archaeologists found in the voids many household items, as well as various objects that could be used as a sacrifice.