Update: Recent archaeology and antiquities related news

Below please find a selection of news items from the past few weeks dealing with archaeological discoveries and research, antiquities and ancient art that we felt to be of special interest. All links will open in a new tab or window. Enjoy –

Roman oil lamps, Roman antiquities, Roman artifacts, Roman art, Roman pottery

A Sample of our finer Roman oil lamps

Over the years we’ve sold countless ancient pottery oil lamps. As is typical of the market for this type of antiquity, most ancient lamps are the more common low-fired pottery lamps from the Levant (Palestine / Israel / Jordan / Syria). These have a special significance for many collectors and the general public because of their connection to the Holy Land, Judaism and early Christianity. Less common and more expensive are the finely made red ware lamps of the early Roman period. These are formed of a higher grade of clay fired to a higher temperature. These often feature molded designs on their discus, ranging from mythological imagery to scenes from the theater, and sometimes have clear maker’s marks on their base. We have several of these in stock. These are depicted here, in multiple views, with links to them in both our Etsy shop and eBay store.

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ABOVE: A Roman pottery oil lamp from North Africa, 2nd Century AD, featuring an unusual scene of a dwarf or child slave with a wine amphora. Probably a theatrical image derived from Roman comedy. In our eBay store here –  http://www.ebay.com/itm/Roman-Pottery-Oil-Lamp-with-Head-of-Jupiter-1st-2nd-Century-AD-/132219587757?hash=item1ec8e6ccad:g:hH4AAOSwgZ1Xsflm  And in our Etsy shop here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/261629936/a-roman-pottery-oil-lamp-with-rare?ref=shop_home_active_11

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ABOVE: A Roman pottery oil lamp, possibly North Africa, Circa 120-180 AD, featuring a Krater (large open top vase with handles) with vegetation growing from it. In our eBay shop here –  http://www.ebay.com/itm/Superb-Roman-Redware-Pottery-Oil-Lamp-with-Vase-Decoration-and-Makers-Mark-/132190951787?hash=item1ec731d96b:g:Qm8AAOSw0fhXiVAl  And in our Etsy store here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/265120673/roman-redware-pottery-oil-lamp-with-vase?ref=shop_home_active_2

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ABOVE: A Roman pottery oil lamp with a wild haired head of Jupiter, from North Africa, 2nd Century AD. In our eBay store here – http://www.ebay.com/itm/Roman-Pottery-Oil-Lamp-with-Head-of-Jupiter-1st-2nd-Century-AD-/132219587757?hash=item1ec8e6ccad:g:hH4AAOSwgZ1Xsflm

And in our Etsy store here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/265121541/roman-redware-pottery-oil-lamp-with-head?ref=shop_home_active_1

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ABOVE: We also have a selection of oil lamps from the Holy Land, Roman, Byzantine and Early Islamic. Above is a good example of a Late Roman type. In our eBay store here – http://www.ebay.com/itm/A-Late-Roman-Pottery-Holy-Land-Oil-Lamp-Circa-AD-400-/132190749536?hash=item1ec72ec360:g:zysAAOSwCGVX3tsy   And in our Etsy store here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/280572988/a-late-roman-pottery-holy-land-oil-lamp?ref=shop_home_active_6

Clio’s Object of the Week: A Rare Roman Glass Marbled Unguentarium, Early 1st Century AD

This week’s featured object is a lovely marbled glass bottle sometimes referred to as an unguentarium, from “unguent” meaning a salve or ointment, though in the Roman world this would most commonly have been a scented oil either for personal use or for funerary rites. Reassembled from a few large fragments, like most of its kind, it is complete, measuring 10.2 cm (4 inches) in height, and dates to the early 1st Century AD.

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The development of glass blowing made glass a common and affordable commodity rather then the preserve of the wealthy. As a result, blown glass unguentaria have survived in countless forms. The Corning Museum of Glass’ printed and online catalogs of unguentaria list dozens of distinct variations, though the great majority of these appear in plain, transparent, uncolored or naturally pale blue-green colored glass. What sets this glass vessel apart from others is its distinctive marbled glass. In this case, the semi-opaque glass is yellow and white, the white having been derived from antimony and the yellow from antimony and lead.

Throughout the Roman Republic and into the Augustan era Roman glass was still dominated by Hellenistic glass making techniques, focusing on opaque colored glass and utilizing time consuming and expensive techniques such as core forming, casting and slumping. The object featured in this article marks a moment of transition, with the introduction of glass blowing and a new preference for colorless transparent glass, and away from the older Hellenistic approach. It combines the new glass blowing technique with a lingering preference for colored glass. This combination allows the object to be dated to a narrow range of a few decades, from about AD 20-60.

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To acquire this fine ancient Roman marbled glass vessel, visit it on Clio’s Etsy shop here –

https://www.etsy.com/listing/265344324/rare-roman-glass-marbled-unguentarium?ref=shop_home_feat_4

or Clio’s eBay store here –

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Rare-Roman-Glass-Marbled-Unguentarium-Roman-Empire-1st-Century-AD-/131966282422?hash=item1eb9cdaab6:g:w2kAAOSw65FXsfiP

Object of the week: A large Roman knee brooch

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This week’s featured object highlights the nature of travel and mobility, as well as the adoption of regional clothing styles, in the Roman world. Among the countless varieties of Roman fibulae – brooches for securing clothing at the shoulders – there were some easily recognizable general categories, including plate brooches, bow brooches, disc brooches, etc. The earliest and by far the most common category of distinctly Roman brooches was the bow brooch. This simple clothespin-like form evolved into many shapes and styles, some of which were purely local. Our object for this week is a type of bow brooch that developed over time across a wide area, from the Roman Danube frontier in central Europe to England.

The earliest knee brooches, so named because of the dramatic bend in their bow, appear in the Roman province of Pannonia, what is today the Danube region of Hungary and Croatia, in the early 2nd Century AD. These have a very “industrial” feel, with strong, squared edges and right angles, with only simple geometric decoration either cast or incised just above the catch plate. Later, in the second half of the 2nd Century, these develop a semicircular head plate which is often decorated with rouletting along the edge. In the Danubian region finds of knee brooches seem to be exclusively associated with military contexts, such as the forts along the upper Danube.

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Upon arriving in Britain, presumably with military units reassigned from the Danube frontier, the knee brooch developed further. But instead of being found in strictly military contexts, Romano-British knee brooches, such as ours, are found as temple and shrine offerings, in civilian settings, and at military sites. Ours is very well preserved and shows the decorated semicircular head plate type in its fully developed form. The knee brooch continued as a common type in Roman Britain until about the beginning of the 4th Century, before being replaced by the crossbow type.

Readers interested in acquiring this object may find it on our Etsy site here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/261523289/a-large-roman-bronze-knee-brooch-150-250?ref=shop_home_active_90

Or on our eBay store here – http://www.ebay.com/itm/131920055095

Object of the Week: A Roman Glass Unguentarium

Our object of the week is an intact Roman glass toilet bottle, usually called an unguentarium. This name seems to be a 19th Century invention, based on the ancient Roman term “unguentarius,” a word used to describe sellers of perfumes. This type of glass vessel is believed to have been used for dispensing perfumed oils for both daily and ritual use. The actual Roman name for this type of vessel is unknown, despite the form being relatively common.

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Our example is structurally intact. The vessel consists of a long bag shaped body, wider and rounded towards the bottom, with a tall narrow neck that widens to a rim that has been thickened by folding it back over itself. Around the body is a thin trail of glass, applied while molten, making seven full revolutions around the vessel, starting from just above the base and ending at the rim. A pair of chunky handles are attached very thickly to the midpoint of the vessel, are pulled outward and meet it just below the rim. Much of this decorative trailing is still intact. There is some encrusted reddish soil inside the vessel and in recessed areas of the exterior, obscuring the vessel’s original color. The original glass color, which is a transparent green-blue, may be seen clearly at the top of the vessel in the first image above. The vessel sits on a thick, round pad base. When the glass worker was attaching the completed vessel to this base he did so slightly off-center, which may also be seen most clearly in the first of two photographs above.

Unguentaria were first made popular in the Hellenistic period but these were mainly of pottery. Many of these have survived, making them rather inexpensive today, and a few are available on our eBay and Etsy stores. While the pottery types continued into the Roman period, it was the development of glass blowing, making glass a common and affordable commodity rather then the preserve of the wealthy, that made our vessel possible. Blown glass unguentaria have survived in countless forms. The Corning Museum of Glass’ printed and online catalogs of unguentaria list dozens of distinct variations, though few have the twin handles of our example until the middle and late Roman period. Our example was made in the Eastern Mediterranean, probably in the coastal region of what is now Israel/Palestine and Lebanon This form continued on and developed in new directions during the early Byzantine period in the Near East and changed again with the advent of Islamic rule in the region.

This vessel was part of a large collection of antiquities formed by a Welsh collector between the 1970s and 2008, drawn from the UK and European art markets. The collection was dispersed at auction by Bonhams, London, Sale #16777, 29 April, 2009. this object was part of Lot # 302.

For those interested in purchasing this item, you may find it here —

Our Etsy store (opens in a new tab or window) – https://www.etsy.com/listing/261567267/roman-glass-unguentarium-late-3rd-4th?ref=shop_home_active_8

Our eBay store (opens in a new tab or window) – http://www.ebay.com/itm/Roman-Glass-Tubular-Vessel-with-Trailing-4th-5th-Century-AD-/131818636485?hash=item1eb100c4c5:g:SdoAAOSw6BtVU2zy

To learn more about unguentaria and ancient Roman glass in general, we recommend the following printed and web resources —

  1. E. Marianne Stern, “Roman, Byzantine and Early Medieval Glass, 10 BCE-700 CE” Ernesto Wolf Collection, 2001.
  2. Roman Glass in the Corning Museum of Glass, Volumes I and II, Corning Museum of Glass, 1997 and 2001, respectively

Because these printed resources are quite expensive, we also recommend online research. The Corning Museum of Glass has a tremendous online collection of ancient glass, especially Roman. A simple search for the word “Ancient” with an image brought up 4,644 results (new tab or window) – http://www.cmog.org/collection/search?f[0]=bs_has_image%3A1&f[1]=im_field_object_work_type%3A299021&solrsort=

Also useful is this exploration of Roman glass from the University of Pennsylvania Museum (new tab or window) – http://www.penn.museum/sites/Roman%20Glass/index.html

Ruins of Praetorian Barracks Uncovered in Rome Subway Upgrade

The link below leads to an illustrated article from the Canadian Global News network on the unexpected discovery of a Praetorian Guard barracks in Rome, resulting from the ongoing upgrade to the City’s subway system (opens in a new window or tab). The ruins are impressive for the wall decorations and mosaic floors, and are said to date from the time of Hadrian – http://globalnews.ca/news/2703631/in-photos-rare-roman-relics-unearthed-in-rome-subway-construction/

Discovery of Unique Late Roman Coin Hoard in Spain

Here are links to 2 different news articles about this recent spectacular accidental find. The unique context of the find may reveal much about the nature of monetary policy and / or military pay in the late Roman Empire in the west.

BBC News article – http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36172538

The Guardian article, with video – https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/apr/29/massive-haul-ancient-roman-coins-unearthed-spain

ancient rome. Roman Empire, City of Rome, Roman architecture

The Ancient City of Rome Recreated in a New High Resolution Video

A joint project of the Khan Academy and Rome Reborn, this narrated YouTube video, nearly 14 minutes long, is a must for anyone with a serious interest in ancient Rome (link opens in a new window or tab) – https://youtu.be/e_phjB19ZEg

Getty Villa, Antiquities, Museums, Ancient Art

Getty Villa Plans to Expand Focus Beyond Ancient Greece and Rome

In an interview published November 3 for THE ART NEWSPAPER web edition, J. Paul Getty Museum director Timothy Potts reveals plans for the Getty Villa to redisplay its exhibits and expands its focus to include broader Mediterranean cultures formative to and related to ancient Greece and Rome including making new acquisitions. Visitors may need to wait up to one year before the physical changes begin. In this writer’s view, it is a sensible move and should make a visit to the Getty Villa, a pleasure at any time, all the more satisfying. Here is a link to the web article: http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Getty-plans-to-redisplay-the-Getty-Villa/36227 A more complete version of the article is available in their print edition.

UK Portable Antiquities Scheme Releases 2013 Annual Report

The UK’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport, along with The British Museum, have issued the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s 2013 Annual Report. The Report shows how, more than ever,  this model of public participation in the finding and recording of archaeological data can have huge benefits to finders, museums and the broader base of archaeological and historical knowledge. It is a model that should be emulated by many other countries in and beyond Europe.

Some amazing key facts from the Report –

* One million finds have now been recorded by the Portable
Antiquities Scheme (PAS) since 1997.
• 80,861 PAS finds were recorded on the PAS database in 2013 (finds.org.uk/database).
• 90% of finds were found by metal-detectorists.
• 91% of PAS finds were found on cultivated land, where they are susceptible to plough damage and artificial and natural corrosion processes.
* The great majority of PAS finds are returned to the finder.
• 993 Treasure cases were reported. It is hoped that many of these will be acquired by museums for public benefit.
• Important new Treasure finds included eight Bronze Age gold bracelets from Woollaston, Gloucestershire (2013 T805), a Civil War coin hoard from Staveley, North Yorkshire (2013 T635) and a post-medieval silver ewer from Kingston Russell, Devon (2013 T476).
It is worth noting here that if about 90% of PAS finds are returned to the finders, in just 2013 this would amount to over 70,000 individual objects being available to enter the marketplace for antiquities and related items. Those who claim, with no actual proof, that the antiquities market is flooded with looted objects should consider this number. In the space of a decade this would approach nearly a million objects, many tens of thousands of them being marketable Celtic, Roman, Saxon and other antiquities. All perfectly legal under British and international law.
The PAS 2013 Report is available to download or view in PDF format here – http://finds.org.uk/documents/annualreports/2013.pdf