AWRC Emerging from Lockdown

Like most organisations, the activities and research supported by the AWRC has been impacted by the pandemic. In 2020 and 2021, the impact was most acutely felt by those who needed to travel. Yet, in Summer of 2021, when many restrictions had been lifted, AWRC-supported scholars and students were able to travel to their sites of research. Here we would like to highlight the work undertaken by Rick Schulting, Nicholas Márquez-Grant, Tim Moller, and Corso Dominici respectively in 2021.

Rick Schulting is excavating an Early Neolithic burial cave (ca. 4000–3500 BC), at a beautiful location on the coast of the Gower Peninsula in Wales, UK (see photo of the site below).

Figure 1, Site of the Neolithic cave burial.


Rick tells us that mortuary practices in the Early Neolithic period in Britain are most often associated with funerary monuments in the form of long barrows and chambered tombs, like the nearby contemporary chamber tomb of Parc le Breos Cwm, so the use of the cave for funerary purposes rises questions about who was buried where and why. To the team’s dismay, burrowing badgers had disarticulated the burials, but Rick and his team were able to identify five individuals including adults and children who were all interred into a narrow, natural crevice in the cave. The team recovered a single artefact: an exceptionally finely made flint arrowhead, presumably placed as a grave offering (see flint arrowhead proudly displayed below).

Figure 2. Fllnt arrowhead from the Neolithic cave burial


Once the remains have been identified and catalogued, Rick tells us that he and his team will take samples for a range of scientific analyses, including radiocarbon dating, stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses and DNA. The results will be compared to those already obtained from the Parc le Breos Cwm chambered tomb in order to try to better understand what lay behind the decision to place some individuals in a built monument, and others in a cave. Rick is asking provocative questions of these burials: was there a division made within the same community (i.e. between those buried in the cave, and those in the chamber tomb), or were these burial places used by distinct communities? What linked them, other than inhabiting the same landscape?

Nicholas Márquez-Grant is wrapping up a small excavation at Ibiza, in the Balearic Archipelago of Spain. Nicholas tells us, for the ancient world, Ibiza is most well-known for the settlements of Phoenician seafarers in the 7th century BC, continuing into the Punic (or Carthaginian) period from the 6th to 2nd century BC. Much less is known about the subsequent Roman period on this strategic island in the Western Mediterranean. Beginning in 2006, Nicholas led a salvage excavation on a Roman period settlement that had been exposed by road works (see plan below of an excavated area of the settlement).


Figure 3. Plan of the Roman period settlement.


In Summer 2021 Nicholas and his team were immersed in post-excavation analysis, which included studying and inventorying about 850 artefacts including pottery, glass, iron implements, and animal bones, recovered from the houses of the settlement. Nicholas tells us that his team’s chronological analysis shows that settlement was founded in the Punic (pre-Roman) period (see below rim of Punic-period amphora), and continued more or less unbroken until the 6th century AD.


Figure 5. Rim of a Punic period amphora


At the settlement’s height during the Roman period between the 1st and 4th centuries AD, stylistic analysis of the pottery including cooking vessels and amphorae, the identification of grinding stones, and an area probably used for the production of oil, hints at the agricultural/horticultural function of the settlement. Nicholas hopes that the results of this salvage excavation will be seen to be important enough to local heritage officials to lead to a larger-scale excavation, and attempts at preservation, of this unique Punic and Roman period settlement at Ibiza.

Tim Moller travelled to Egypt to support his doctoral research on the relationship between Egypt and Meroitic Sudan in the Greco-Roman period, with a particular interest in elephants and ivory. The Nubian Museum at Aswan, and tomb contexts in Thebes and Hermopolis were among the key sites and collections that Tim visited. At the Nubian Museum Tim tells us that the so-called "Meroitic Elephant Rider" (see image of the object below).Tim explained to us that studying the object confirmed his belief that it is not Meroitic, raising intriguing questions around the origins of the Elephant Rider.


Elephant rider



Tim visited the New Kingdom (18th Dynasty) tomb of Rekhmire at Thebes and the Late Period (28th Dynasty) tomb of Petosiris at Hermopolis to view first hand the representations of elephants and ivory in tribute scenes, separated chronologically by over 1000 years (see below Tim making notes in the tomb of Rekhmire).


Figure Rekhmire


Tim tells us that he is particularly interested in the relationship between the representations of elephants and the representation of other animals in these scenes, with wide ranging implications for the political geography of these two historical periods. Tim also had the opportunity to meet Professor Salima Ikram from the American University in Cairo, who is widely acknowledged as a world authority on animals in ancient Egypt. This knowledge exchange was an excellent opportunity to situate his work in cutting edge scholarship, in addition to the assistance that Professor Ikram offered to resolve logistical issues related to future research in Egypt. Overall, Tim reports that this was an unparalleled opportunity to understand the in situ topographical context of many of the sites which are of key concern to his DPhil project, started in October 2021.

Corso Dominici is leading a regional survey the Apennine Mountains in central Italy (see photo of survey area below, taken from the peak of Monte Castelsavino).

Figure 5 View of survey area


The survey is focused on the Casentino Valley (of the upper Arno river) and the Valtiberina Valley (of the upper Tiber river) and settlement and land use in this area from the 7th to the 3rd century BC. Corso tells us that the two valleys formed a strategic crossroad for the people who lived in the Apennine ranges during this time period. In the 2021 field season Corso collected material from 37 sites and analysed data that are invaluable for understanding settlement patterns in this rugged landscape, but also, intriguingly, defensive features. Part of the survey included visiting a pre-Roman fort on the peak of Monte Castelsavino (photo above taken from the peak). Corso asks the first question from any historical or ancient fort: what was it defending? To his surprise, it was not positioned to defend the major valley systems of Casentino and Valtiberina. Rather, it overlooked two mountain passes and springs, both tributary to the upper Tiber river in the Valtiberina Valley. Corso asks another methodological question, framing future fieldwork at this site: what would a ground-penetrating geophysical survey reveal of this fort?  Corso hopes he can return in the next fieldwork season to conduct such a survey at this intriguing pre-Roman site.