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Ivory bag rings found in Anglo-Saxon burials have origins in Africa

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Ivory bag rings found in more than 70 Anglo Saxon cemeteries in England have origins from African elephants according to a new study.

Bag rings are commonly found in high status female burials from the late-5th and 7th centuries AD, but the source of the ivory has long been debated since the 19th century, with walrus and mammoth ivory considered as possible contenders to elephantid ivory.

Recent excavations of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Scremby, Lincolnshire, have found elaborate female burials containing bag rings which have been subject to a study using radiocarbon dating and a Zooarchaeology study by mass spectrometry (ZooMS).

According to the study: “Strontium analysis was also used to identify the place of residence of the elephantids at the time of tusk formation. Through a multi-methodological approach, we have established that the ivory used for the Scremby bag rings came from elephants living in an area of young volcanic rocks in Africa at some point during the 5th and 6th centuries AD.”

The strontium isotope values indicates a region around Eastern Africa, with the ivory likely entering Northern Europe from the Kingdom of Aksum, located in modern-day Eritrea and northern Ethiopia.

The Aksumite Kingdom emerged in the former historical kingdom of Dʿmt, first documented in a trading guide called the ‘Periplus of the Erythraean Sea’ from around the mid-1st century AD. The Kingdom was centred on the capital of Aksum near the base of the Adwa mountains, situated to control both the highland and coastal regions of northern Ethiopia.

According to the Periplus text, the position of the Aksumite Kingdom in international terms, played an important role in the transcontinental trade route between Rome and India from an early stage.

The Kingdom played a prominent role in the supply of ivory until the 7th century AD. This coincided with the early Islamic conquests and expansion into North Africa, which established a trade monopoly between the region and the Mediterranean.

Perhaps related to the disrupted trade routes to the West was the marked decline in the occurrence of ivory bag rings in Anglo-Saxon graves dating from the 7th century onwards. This was also a time of flux in England that saw wider changes to burial practices in part due to the re-establishment of Christianity.

Science Direct

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2023.103943

Header Image Credit : Science Direct

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Archaeology

Inside the tomb of the First Emperor

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The tomb of the First Emperor, also known as the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, is the burial complex and mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, the founder of the Qin Dynasty and the first emperor of a unified China.

According to the Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian (a historian from the Han period), Qin Shi Huang was born in 259 BC in Handan, the capital of Zhao.

He was given the name of Ying Zheng or Zhao Zheng – Zheng being his month of birth “Zhengyue”, the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar.

Around 246 – 247 BC, the 13-year-old Ying Zheng succeeded his father to the throne of Qin and reigned for 36 years as Qin Shi Huang until his death in 210 BC.

Qin Shi Huang’s reign brought about the unification of China and an end to the Warring States period in 221 BC. He constructed a series of walls to connect fortifications along the empire’s northern frontier (the precursor to the Great Wall of China) and built a national road system and the Lingqu Canal.

Although some historians see Qin Shi Huang’s rule as one of tyranny, he did enact several major economic and political reforms to standardise the Chinese states incorporated into his Empire and worked to completely abolish the feudal system of loose alliances and federations.

During his life, Qin Shi Huang became obsessed with immortality and sought the elixir of life. He sent ships in search of Penglai mountain on an inhabited island, where an ancient magician known as Anqi Sheng was said to reside. Qin mythology believed that immortals resided on the mountain and knew the secret to everlasting life.

It was this obsession with immortality that would be Qin Shi Huang’s downfall, as many historians propose that he died from prolonged poisoning due to regular consumption of an elixir containing mercury. Mercury exposure would undoubtedly cause a decline in function of the central nervous system and result in severe brain and liver damage.

Qin Shi Huang was buried in the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, a large complex commissioned when he first became emperor. The mausoleum is located in present-day Lintong District in the city of Xi’an, and was constructed over 38 years using 700,000 workmen (based on historical text).

The structure of the mausoleum is situated beneath a 76-metre-tall hillock (mound) shaped like a truncated pyramid, however, due to soil erosion the pyramid now stands at 47 metres tall. The base of the pyramid measures 515 x 485 metres and covers an area of just under one square mile.

Excavations around the complex have discovered around 7,000 (estimates suggest up to 8,000) statues of terracotta warriors, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians, and around 100 wooden battle chariots placed to serve the emperor in his afterlife.

Archaeologists have steered clear of excavating the tomb beneath the hillock due to concerns of the irreparable damage that would be caused to the structure, and the accelerated degradation of the tomb contents when exposed to contaminants such as air pollutants, temperature oscillations, changes in humidity, bacteria and fungus.

This is evidenced with the terracotta warriors, as when they were first excavated, the painted surface present on some examples began to flake and fade within seconds of exposure to the dry air of Xi’an’s climate.

What is known about the tomb interior comes again from the Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian, who describes how workmen constructed palaces and scenic towers for a hundred officials within the interior of the hillock. They poured bronze to cast the emperors outer coffin and filled the tomb with rare artefacts and treasures from across China.

Using non-invasive techniques such as geo radar and gravimetre investigations, archaeologists have determined that the “palace” measures 140 × 110 × 30 m3, while the central coffin chamber measures 80 × 50 × 15 m3.

Most interestingly, is Sima Qian’s account of Mercury being used in the tomb to simulate the hundred rivers, the Yangtze, Yellow River, and the great sea, which sat below a representation of the heavenly constellations.

In 2016, a study using lidar mapping was conducted around the mausoleum to detect traces of mercury concentrations. The study found elevated concentrations up to 27 ng/m3, significantly higher than the typical general pollutant level in the area which was found to be around 5–10 ng/m3.

The State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) continues to follow a process of research and evaluations to develop a protection plan before any long-term excavations can take place in the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor.

Header Image Credit : Alamy (Under Copyright)

Sources :

Zhao, G., Zhang, W., Duan, Z. et al. Mercury as a Geophysical Tracer Gas – Emissions from the Emperor Qin Tomb in Xi´an Studied by Laser Radar. Sci Rep 10, 10414 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-67305-x

An Integrated Geophysical and Archaeological Investigation of the Emperor Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum https://doi.org/10.2113/JEEG11.2.73

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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Archaeology

Megathrust earthquakes possible cause of Teōtīhuacān decline

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A new study, published in the journal Science Direct, suggests that a series of megathrust earthquakes led to the decline and possible abandonment of Teōtīhuacān.

Named by the Nahuatl-speaking Aztecs as Teōtīhuacān, and loosely translated as “birthplace of the gods”, Teōtīhuacān is an ancient Mesoamerican city located in the Teōtīhuacān Valley of the Free and Sovereign State of Mexico, in present-day Mexico.

The development of Teōtīhuacān can be identified by four distinct consecutive phases, known as Teōtīhuacān I, II, III, and IV.

It was during phase II (AD 100 to 350) that the city population rapidly grew into a metropolis and saw the construction of monuments such as the Pyramid of the Sun (the third largest ancient pyramid after the Great Pyramid of Cholula and the Great Pyramid of Giza), the Pyramid of the Moon, the Avenue of the Dead, and the Ciudadela with the Temple of the Feathered Serpent (also known as Temple of the Quetzalcoatl).

An analysis of several pyramids within the city has revealed evidence of Earthquake Archaeological Effects (EAEs), potentially linked to seismic loading. The study has focused on the Temple of the Feathered Serpent (Old temple and New temple), and the Sun and the Moon pyramids, in which visible EAE’s can be observed.

According to the researchers, the EAE’s are likely caused by megathrust earthquakes, for which five destructive ancient earthquakes have been estimated to have struck Teōtīhuacān between the Tzacualli – Miccaotli (AD 100–150), and Metepec (AD 600 ± 50) stages, by matching EAEs and archaeological dates.

Based on the spatial pattern of the EAEs and the orientation of the dipping broken corners (DBC) or chip marks, it is theorised that a series of seismic shocks struct the city from the SW to the NE, indicating a possible origin of a seismic source in the Middle American Trench caused by repetitive megathrust earthquakes.

At least, two strong destructive earthquakes (Intensity VIII-IX) affected Teōtīhuacān in antiquity that impacted the development of the architectural styles. The first one occurred between the years AD 1–150 (Miccaotli phase), and the second one occurred in AD 455 ± 50 (Late Xolalpan-Early Metepec phase).

This was followed by three further damaging earthquakes, for which the latter two occurred around AD 650 before the abandonment of the city the following century.

“This proposal does not conflict with other existing theories for the Teotihuacan abrupt collapse, considering that the sudden overlapping of natural disasters like earthquakes could increase internal warfare (uprising), and civil unrest,” said the study authors.

Header Image Credit : Shutterstock

Sources : Science Direct | Teotihuacan ancient culture affected by megathrust earthquakes during the early Epiclassic Period (Mexico). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2024.104528.

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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