As the long month of January ends, and 2021 is firmly here, I thought it was a good time to have another round-up of historical and archaeological news that came out of January. From 3,000-year-old purple fabric, to a Victorian bath house, to an ancient pet dog, there have been plenty of exciting announcements!
A Botticelli painting has sold for £67 million.
In the last week of January, a painting by renowned Renaissance artist, Sandro Botticelli, sold at auction for a huge $92 million (£67m). The painting, Young Man Holding a Roundel, is thought to have been painted in the 1470s or 1480s and the sale was a record for a painting by Botticelli. The painting only returned to the public attention in the early 20th century, and had been owned by the same Welsh family for 200 years. For the past few decades it has been on public display across the world. Read more about the painting and auction here.
A ‘fast food’ counter has been found well preserved in Pompeii.
The ruins of Pompeii have been one of history’s biggest archaeological marvels, with the ash that buried the town after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago perfectly preserving many buildings and items in the town. Now, archaeologists have announced the last phase of excavation of a fast-food counter in the town. Street food was popular in many ancient Roman cities, and this stall was decorated with beautifully-preserved paintings of animals whose meat was probably sold at the stall. A dog on a lead is also depicted, theorised to be the Roman equivalent of a “beware of the dog” sign. Read about the find here.
A Victorian bath house has been uncovered in Manchester.
During building work in Manchester, a large Victorian bath house has been discovered under a car park. The bath house first opened in 1857 and would have been used by textile workers. Much has survived, including a two pools for men and women and parts of the boilers and pumps used to heat and circulate the water. The bath house was damaged by bombs during the Second World War after which it was demolished and the remains buried. Read about the find here.
A 2,000-year-old skeleton of a child and its pet dog have been discovered in France.
The skeleton of a one-year-old child, who died at the start of the 1st century AD, has been uncovered during a dig at Clermont-Ferrand airport, central France. The child was buried in a wooden coffin surrounded by terracotta vases and glass pots thought to have contained oils and medicines as well as a variety of meat. Next to the child was the remains of a puppy wearing a decorated collar with a small bell, indicating it was a pet. During this period in this region children were often buried at a family property, which suggests a large Roman villa may be buried nearby. Read more here.
The remains of a 16th-century garden have been found in Warwickshire.
The creation of HS2 high-speed rail in England has been controversial for years, but it has just been announced that at one of the sites an elaborate 16th-century garden has been uncovered. The site in Warwickshire is home to the remains of Coleshill Manor which was built by Sir Robert Digby. During an aerial survey undertaken for the rail route, the shape of the manor and its moat were discovered which has been excavated across the past two years. Now, it has been announced that one of the best-preserved ornamental gardens from the 16th century forms part of the site. Read about the excavations here.
Ancient purple-dyed fabric has been found in Israel.
Historically, purple dye was very expensive due to the rarity of materials which could create the colour, or due to the quantities required to dye a garment. In many places around the world, purple dye was so prestigious that it was reserved only for members of the royal family. Now, archaeologists have found remains of purple-dyed fabric in Israel which dates to 1000 BC, the first direct evidence of the use of the dye in the region at this period of time. The 3,000-year-old piece of fabric has thus caused great excitement. Read about the find and why it is so special here.
The world’s oldest animal cave painting has been found.
Art can sometimes seem like a more modern human invention, but the discovery of a 45,000 year old painting of a pig found in Indonesia last month reminds us this is far from true. Found in the Leang Tedongnge cave on the island of Sulawesi, the painting of the pig was made using dark red ochre pigment, and is life size. The painting has enough detail that it has been concluded that it represents an adult male Sulawesi warty pig. The pig stands alongside the remains of two other pigs, as well as two human handprints. Read more about the discovery here.
One of the earliest mosques has been found in Israel.
More discoveries to come out of Israel in January include the find of a mosque which is thought to date to around 670 AD. This makes it one of the earliest mosques of Islam, built within a generation of the death of the Prophet Mohammad. The mosque was found in the city of Tiberias, just south of the Sea of Galilee. The city had been a major Jewish city until Muslims conquered it in 635 AD, just a few decades before the mosque was built. Early indications from the dig suggest a period of religious tolerance in the city, where the mosque stood alongside churches and synagogues. Read about the find here.
Despite the ongoing problems of the Coronavirus pandemic, then, the historical and archaeological world has kept busy. There have been some really fascinating and important announcements this month, and I look forwards to seeing what else comes out of 2021!
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