Archive for the ‘Ancient Europe’ Category

Sore Loser’s 7th-Century Game Piece Found

By: The Scribe on November, 2013

gambling anglo saxonsModern-day board game enthusiasts are certainly familiar with this scenario: Picking out a game from the shelves, opening the box, getting the game set up, only to discover that… a piece is missing?!

In the Lyminge hall in Anglo-Saxon Kent, some 1,300 years ago, this exact scenario may have played out. Archaeologists discovered a gaming piece from the 7th-century that belonged to nobles living the high life—a life rich enough to afford expertly crafted gaming pieces, in this case a suspected 6th-century Lombard piece.

Made from hollow bone and closed with delicate wooden caps, held together by a bronze pin, the gaming piece may have been tossed aside in frustration or anger by a sore loser—a king or noble, disgusted at a loss, throwing the piece over his shoulder. Its disappearance is tantamount to having something slide under the fridge or stove—impossible to find later on, and only re-discovered under exceptional circumstances.

board gameDuring this time, it was far more common for gaming pieces to be made out of wood or chunks of bone, but this piece’s expert craftsmanship does imply that the kings of Kent weren’t hurting for luxuries during their rule.

The Anglo-Saxons were avid board gamers (and gamblers!), playing such games as tabula (an early form of backgammon) and latrunculi (similar to draughts)—and it wasn’t uncommon for men to be buried with their dice or gaming boards.

Your Ancestors Wouldn’t Have Lied to the Dental Hygienist

By: The Scribe on October, 2013

toothpick dental diseaseYou know how it is. You go to the dentist, and the dental hygienist begins cleaning your teeth, making strange “hmms” and “huh” noises. And you know what’s coming. You wait for it with a sense of dread… “how often do you floss?”

Regardless of whether you tell the truth or not (call it “exaggerating” all you want, but plaque tells no lies!), it now appears that even the ancestors of humankind had better oral hygiene than many of us floss-fearing modern types. And when they had a toothache, they took care of it themselves!

Between 1.9 and 1.6 million years ago, the Neanderthals known as Homo habilis were in the habit of using “toothpicks” to remove food scraps trapped between their teeth.

One particular fossil showed evidence that an individual used a toothpick to try and alleviate the pain of gum inflammation—periodontal disease, to be more precise—as the use of toothpicks could help mitigate the sense of soreness.

This is the first known example of “pallative treatment with toothpicks, the oldest documented”, says researcher Maria Lozano. The fossil was found at Cova Forada, an archaeological site in Valencia, Spain.

That said, there are other examples of Neanderthals using toothpicks—visible in grooves caused by excess toothpick usage—that have nothing to do with gum or dental disease.

“However, in the case of Cova Forada,” says Lozano, “the toothpic was not only used as a primitive method of dental hygiene, but it is associated with a dental disease and with the clear intention to alleviate pain, and that makes it unique.”

Pain alleviation or not, one thing is clear: If ancient people were picking their teeth to get rid of stuck food millions of years ago… none of us “modern” humans have an excuse anymore for not flossing!

Horses Stand Upright in Death

By: The Scribe on September, 2013

horsesbulgariaWhile it’s not uncommon to read about archaeologists—or “gold rush” tomb robbers—to uncover troves of Thracian gold treasures in Bulgarian tombs, it’s more than a little unusual to find an entire chariot buried in the ground…

…along with the horses that pulled it!

Yes, that’s right! A 2,500-year-old set of horse skeletons and the chariot they likely pulled while living was uncovered in a Thracian tomb in northeast Bulgaria. According to Professor Diana Gergova (National Archaeology Institute at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences), “the find is unique, it is not resembling any other carriage dating from the Thracian era ever uncovered in Bulgaria.”

Treasure hunters have plundered the vast majority of the mounds in the area, searching for gold and other ancient artifacts to sell on the underground antiquities market—which is why this find was so surprising.

The chariot within the burial is Thracian in origin, and the horses appear to have been buried standing upright—which means they were likely led into the tomb pulling the chariot, and killed once they reached their final resting place.

Nearby the chariot was also a dog skeleton—chained to the cart—and the grave of the carriage-owing warrior. Archaeologists also found his spears, swords, armor, medication, and an inkwell, suggesting that the man was well educated.

While the thought of horses and dogs killed and buried along with someone in a tomb certainly tugs on the heartstrings, objectively, this is a very important find—especially considering that up to 90% of the area’s ancient tombs have been partially or completely destroyed by treasure hunters.

Party Invitation in Ancient Rome

By: The Scribe on September, 2013

The ancient fort of Vindolanda used to be a part of the Roman Empire, though today it’s part of modern Britain. This northern area of the Empire was cold and rainy (and still is!), and has yielded plenty of interesting finds for archaeologists working in the area.

Among the most notable of finds have been waterlogged tablets and tablet fragments. These fragments, excavated beginning in 1973, are covered in Latin—the particular style here often referred to as “Roman cursive writing.”

vindolanda-tabletThe tablets, now preserved through conservation efforts and dated to around 100 A.D., have been deciphered to reveal details of daily life in the fort. Some tablets contained lists of supplies, much like a modern day grocery list: Bacon, honey, oysters. Another letter was sent to the fort from a soldier’s family back home, letting him know that more socks, underwear, and sandals had been sent to him.

Other interesting fragments contained descriptions of the native Britons that these Romans encountered during their time at the fort… but the most exciting find for history was the discovery of a handwritten party invitation from the wife of the Fort Vindolanda’s commander to her sister.

While the majority of the invitation wouldn’t have been written directly by the commander’s wife—commanding officers and their family had someone to physically compose their letters while they dictated—the words in italics are known to have been written by Claudia Severa herself.

How do we know this? The handwriting of the majority of the letter is clear and professional, but it changes for these few lines. And this small little portion of the party invitation, while seemingly benign, is actually the easiest known historical sample of Latin writing by a woman!

Vindolanda_Roman_fort“Claudia Severa to her Lepidina, greetings. On 11 September, sister, for the day of the celebration of my birthday, I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us, to make the day more enjoyable for me by your arrival, if you are present. Give my greetings to your Cerialis. My Aelius and my little son send him their greetings. I shall expect you, sister. Farewell, sister, my dearest soul, as I hope to prosper and hail. To Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of Cerialis, from Severa.”


The fragment of tablet the invitation was written on is made of wood, and it’s about the size of a common postcard.

You can view many of these tablets online right here! Vindolanda Tablets Online

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