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Celtic hoard found in Netherlands

celtic-coinCoins are often used as “index fossils” by archaeologists. An index fossil is a fossil with which paleontologists are familiar that is also known to have lived during a specific time period and in a certain environment. For this reason an index fossil can help date an entire paleontological dig site. Coins found at archaeological dig sites can often help date the site, identify past trade routes, identify rulers, suggest political borders, and even suggest the level of technology available in the area. Due to inscriptions and iconography coins are often the only artifact found at an archaeological site that can “speak” to us.

On Nov. 13 an important find of 109 Celtic coins of the Eburones tribe found in the Netherlands was announced through the Associated Press. According to AP information, this is one of three important hoard finds of coins issued by this tribe. The other two finds, according to AP information, were discovered in Belgium and Germany in areas not too distant geographically from the Netherlands.

The most recent find was discovered by metal detector hobbyist Paul Curfs, who was sweeping a corn field in Maastricht, a city in the southern part of the Netherlands. Curfs is not a coin collector. He discovered the coins in the spring of 2008. The find is only now being announced publicly.

In the AP story Curfs described his find of the first coin, saying: “It was golden and had a little horse on it – I had no idea what I had found.”

Curfs posted an image of the gold coin on the Internet on what is described as a web forum. Someone advised him the coin was rare. This prompted Curfs to return to the same field, where he next discovered a coin he described as, “It looked totally different – silver, and saucer-shaped.”

By the time Curfs and several fellow hobbyists were done they had uncovered a total of 39 gold and 70 silver ancient Celtic coins. Curfs notified Maastricht city officials of the discovery, then worked with professional archaeologists to investigate the find site further.

Specific details important to coin collectors were not immediately available, however according to the AP story, “Nico Roymans, the archaeologist who led the academic investigation of the find, believes the gold coins in the cache were minted by a tribe called the Eburones that [Julius] Caesar claimed to have wiped out in 53 B.C. after they conspired with other groups in an attack that killed 6,000 Roman soldiers.”

The Euburones were a Germanic tribe living primarily in what in now Belgium. In 54 BC the Eburones revolted against local Roman occupation through Euburones tribal chieftains Ambiorix and Catuvoleus. Ambiorix initially offered safe passage to the Romans while other tribes elsewhere in Gaul were in revolt against the Romans. The Romans, commanded by Quintus Titurius Sabinus and Lucius Aurunculeius Cotta, agreed. The Eburones treacherously ambushed the Romans, most of whom were killed or committed suicide rather than allow themselves to be captured by the Euburones.

By 49 BC Roman general Julius Caesar had crushed the revolt, defeating both Celts and Germanic tribes living in Gaul (Gaul being comprised of primarily of what is now modern France). Caesar then defied the Roman Senate by crossing the Rubicon River and marching on the city of Rome, crossing the Rubicon being considered treason since that river marked the northernmost boundary of the Roman Republic proper. By this act Caesar initiated a Roman civil war that would end the Roman Republic and usher in the Roman Empire The Eburones had resisted Caesar’s conquest of Gaul and were rewarded for their resistance with genocide at the hands of the Romans.

Roymans believes the gold and silver coin hoard recently found in the Netherlands were produced by Celtic tribes further north, suggesting in his opinion the coins may represent cooperation among the various Celtic tribes in the war against Caesar’s Roman legions. Roymans disclosed that both the gold and silver coins depict triple spirals on the obverse, a common Celtic symbol.

At the time this article was being written no value had yet been placed on the hoard. The hoard discovered in Belgium was of similar size and has been estimated at about 175,000 euros (about $220,000 US) in value.

Curfs has retained 11 of the coins, lending them to the city of Maastricht on what has been described as a long-term basis. His coins have been on display at the Centre Ceramique Museum in Maastricht.

The farmer on whose land the hoard was discovered sold his interest in the coins to Maastricht for an undisclosed sum.

SOURCE

Filed under: Archaeology, Historia, , , , , , , , ,

The Maya suffered for their looks

maya-palenqueWe may think we make sufficient sacrifices for our idea of beauty, what with false eyelashes, body perforations supporting various bits of metalwork from earrings to tongue studs, toupees and hair extensions, Spanx and padded bras. The Ancient Maya went much farther, however, reshaping their children’s skulls and inlaying their own teeth with jade.

“The Maya went to extreme lengths to transform their bodies,” Professor Mary Miller reports in the new year issue of Archaeology, the US journal. “They invested vast wealth and endured unspeakable pain to make themselves beautiful.”

As an example, Professor Miller cites K’inich Janaab’ Pakal, who ruled the western Maya city of Palenque from AD615 to 683, and after his death at the age of 80 was interred in a great carved sarcophagus below the Temple of the Inscriptions. His skeleton shows that soon after his birth, his head was strapped between two cradle-boards to compress it from back to front, not unlike the crystal-skulled aliens in the recent Indiana Jones film.

This left an indentation above his browline, which was emphasised by an artificial nasal bridge, probably of clay or plaster, built up on to his forehead. Although this does not survive in the burial, a stucco portrait head found below the sarcophagus shows it clearly. The head also shows that Pakal’s hair was cut in a series of bluntly trimmed tresses, with longer strands on top flopping forward, which Professor Miller interprets as imitating the leaves and corn silk on a maize plant: at the site of Cacaxtla, Maya-style murals show maize cobs on the plant as human heads. Pakal was shown as ever-youthful, like the maize that springs up anew each year.

Pakal’s front teeth were filed into an inverted T-shape, marking him as also being the Sun God, something shown on his jade burial mask as well. For many Maya, notably those of the elite, dental decoration was seen as highly desirable.

Teeth, especially the upper incisors and canines were filed and notched in a variety of designs, giving in some cases a distinctly crooked smile. Most striking, however, were the dental inlays: a shallow hole was drilled into the front face of the tooth enamel (using a reed or bone hollow drill and an abrasive such as sand or jade dust), sometimes reaching the dentine within.

maya-sculpture1

Small discs of jade, obsidian or haematite were then cemented into the holes: the plant adhesive was so powerful that many burials found by archaeologists today still have the inlays firmly in place. Up to three discs were inserted into a single tooth, and jade and the other materials were combined to give a flash of apple-green, dull red and shiny black across the mouth; inlays and filing were also

combined. Dental decoration was probably applied as a rite of passage to adulthood, according to Professor Stephen Houston, of Brown University, Rhode Island.

The Maya also painted their bodies, in life and in death. Narrative scenes on polychrome vases show pigments applied to face, chest and buttocks. In death, Pakal’s corpse was treated with alternating layers of red and black pigments, Professor Miller reports. Red to the Maya was the colour of the sunrise, black of the sunset, alternating with each other in the diurnal cycle.

Some facial designs are in the form of long strings of dots, especially around the mouth, and when this is shown in sculpture or vase-painting it may be intended to show tattooing rather than just make-up. “Beauty was a way to display social, if not moral, value among the ancient Maya,” Professor Miller concludes. “The wealth they invested and pain they endured to create bodies that reflected their social beliefs make our modern-day obsession with beauty seem less excessive.”

Archaeology Vol 62 No. 1: 36-42

SOURCE

Filed under: Archaeology, Cultura, Historia, , , , , , , , , , , ,

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