Most recent update:5/1/2004; 5:36:58 AM

 Thursday, April 22, 2004

NUNTII: Rosia Montana/Alburnus Maior

Towards the end of last year we were first alerted to the threat faced by the Roman gold mines at Rosia Montana (Romania), a.k.a. Alburnus Maior. Alas, it looks like all the protests from environmentalists and others have been for naught. The mine is pretty much a go ... here's some bits from the Kansas City Star which provide the Classical angle:

For more than 2,000 years, strangers have invaded this place, seeking the gold that's beneath the villagers' feet.


This time, a Romanian mining company, backed by Canadian capital and fueled by Romania's hunger to become a member of the European Union, plans to open huge pits to get at the gold, and fill the valley with leftover crushed rock. Within a few years, the villagers' homes, their churches and their graveyards will be gone, along with two valleys, a couple of rocky peaks and an ancient network of tunnels the Romans used to mine the area.


Beneath this tiny Transylvanian village lies more gold than in any other place in Europe.

For centuries, miners have been digging it out, a pinch at a time. Dirt paths climb past 400-year-old homes, leading to mines dug during Roman times.


Aston said that many in the area agree with the company's vision. More than a third of the villagers have already sold their homes, including Dorina Cirua's sister, and others are in negotiations. The company, which will have to own every property in the valley before it can begin, is building a new village on a nearby hill.

Even the Roman tunnels can't be saved. "The Romans followed the veins of highest grade gold," Aston said. "It makes sense to follow their path."

That's a tragedy, said Horia Ciuguidean, an archeologist and former director of the museum in Rosia Montana. The tunnels, called galleries, are largely untouched and unstudied.

"In a richer country, the Roman galleries would be seen for what they are - a priceless national treasure," he said. "No place on earth can you see such a thing."

Gold found in ancient Greek treasures can be traced to the region, but it was the Romans who left the most behind - miles of tunnels, all built in a classic trapezoid pattern, triangles with the top point lopped off.

There are scooped-out hollows in the wall where Roman oil lamps used to provide light, 2,000-year-old timbers still shore up some sections, and historians have found old contracts, on stone and wood, that Romans gave local workers for excavation.

But Ciuguidean lost his job as the local museum director over his opposition to the project, and he understands that the mine will come.

"The future will come. It must," Ciuguidean said philosophically. "But a place must be made for the past, as well."

Company spokesman Adrian Dascalu said the tunnels are hardly Roman ruins, anyway. Others have mined them since.

"They're more Austro-Hungarian than Roman," he said. [the whole thing]

Happily (in a sense) I have found that the Canadian gold company has been sponsoring a major dig/survey of the archaeological remains (including the Roman mines) prior to their destruction. The Canadian (holding) company in question is Gabriel Resources, which has a website, of course. One of the links goes to their Rosia Montana Gold Corporation webpage, which has a link to a page they call "social responsibility", which further links to matters archaeological (it's a pile of frames and java menus ... it's easier to point you to the main page).. On this page we read:

The Rosia Montana project (the "Project") is located in what has been Europe's most prolific mining district for over 2000 years. In order to confirm that the development of a new mine can proceed at the Project site, an extensive program of archaeological investigations must be conducted to ensure that all valuable historical relics in the area are uncovered and preserved.

The archaeological site investigations presently being funded by Gabriel Resources Ltd. and its majority owned Romanian subsidiary Rosia Montana Gold Corporation S.A. represent the largest archeological program presently being undertaken in Romania. One of the principal benefits from these programs has been the significant development of archaeological findings, as well as fostering cooperation and exchanges between international and Romanian archaeologists.


Since 2001, Gabriel Resources Ltd. has funded a series of archaeological investigations at the Project site, which have been conducted by the National Museum of History of Romania in association with a number of archaeological specialists from Romania and abroad. As a result of these programs, the Romanian Minister of Culture has granted archaeological discharge certificates for major areas of the Project site.

During 2002, Rosia Montana Gold Corporation S.A. expects to complete investigations and receive discharge certificates for the balance of the Project site needed to commence construction of the new mine.

The Project site investigations are designed to systematically explore all areas where mining operations and their associated plant, facilities and infrastructure will be located. Extensive documentation and findings have been compiled as a result of these investigations.

The Project site investigations have been coordinated on Rosia Montana Gold Corporation S.A.'s behalf by Dr. Dana Mihai, Director of DALEM Consulting, a nationally recognized archaeological consulting group.

I note that Dr. Mihai did give a paper at the 2003 AIAC Congress on the subject of Dacian miners, so perhaps from the Classical side of things, this is something that is in good hands.

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NUNTII: Marcus Aurelius Statuary Found

The Sunday Times (!) reports on the discovery of a rather large head from a statue of Marcus Aurelius in Petra:

French archaeologists have unearthed a perfectly preserved head of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius in the ancient Nabatean city of Petra south of Jordan, the head of the mission told AFP.

"A monumental white marble head, in excellent condition, belonging to a statue the emperor Marcus Aurelius was found in Petra by French archaeologists," Christian Auge said.

The head of the 2nd century AD Roman leader who was also known as the "good emperor" or the "philosopher-king" was found in the Qasr al-Bint area of Petra, a Nabatean city famous for its rose-red temples dug in the rock.

Auge said the marble head was found in the "temenos", a sacred courtyard around the Qasr al-Bint, one of the main temples in Petra.

"It was found head down amid rubble resulting from the destruction of a monument that had been built on the western edge of the sacred courtyard," Auge said.

He said it must have fallen off a statue during an earthquake that struck the region in the 4th century.

The head is 50 centimetres (20 inches) high and 35 centimetres broad, or twice life size. [more]

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ante diem x kalendas maias

  • 178 A.D. -- martyrdom of Epipodias at Lyons
  • 202 A.D. -- martyrdom of Leonidas in Alexandria
  • 248 A.D. -- second day of celebrations for Rome's 1000th anniversary
  • ca 250 A.D. -- martyrdom of Helimenas at Babylon

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CHATTER: Double Take Quote

The latest from the world of harness racing:

The Ides Of March (Ross Wolfenden) beat Eternal Optimist (Billy Mann)

I said, "Julie don't go!" but he wouldn't listen.

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GOSSIP: Alexander the Great has some new stills from the upcoming Alexander flick. Nice pics of Val Kilmer as a one-eyed Philip and a rather-too-stunning-to-be-Al's-mom Angelina Jolie as Olympias ... nice shot of Ptolemy sitting in a library too ...

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NUNTII: Romans in India

I believe we have mentioned the discovery of fragments of Roman pottery at Kerala (India) before ... this piece from IndoLink adds some good detail:

A historical mystery surrounding Indo-Roman trade routes may have been solved, says a report by Southampton University archaeology research fellow Roberta Tomber.
Armed with an Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) grant to investigate Indo-Roman trade, and with the guidance of David Peacock who heads Archaeology at the University of Southampton, Tomber worked with local archaeologists in Kerala where she identified the first fragments of Roman wine amphorae found on the south-west coast of India.

The striking archaeological evidence suggests that the legendary seaport of Muziris, which was a bustling Indo-Roman trading center during the early historic period between the first century BC and the fifth century AD, could have been located at Pattanam, near Paravur on the south of the Periyar river delta.


The site covers an area of about 1.5 sq km and the deposit is about two metres thick. It has produced fragments of imported Roman amphora, mainly used for transporting wine and olive oil, Yemenese and West Asian pottery, besides Indian ware common on the East Coast of India and also found in Berenike in Egypt. Bricks, tiles, pottery shards, beads and other artefacts found at Pattanam are very similar to those found at Arikamedu and other early historic sites in India.

According to the University of Southampton report, the most striking finds from Pattanam are the rim and handle of a classic Italian wine amphora from Naples which was common between the late first century BC and 79 AD, when pottery production in the region was disrupted by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Islamic glazed ware from West Asia indicate that the site remained active beyond the early historic period

Archaeologists have long believed in the existence of the ancient port of Muziris in this area, where Romans traded for pepper and other spices from India and even further East, but its location was still unknown. 'We now have for the first time archaeological evidence of where Muziris was located,' she said. 'It was a very important port for the Romans and would repay careful excavation. I hope to be involved in this work in the future.'

Tomber claims that the pottery pieces found by Shajan, a marine geologist, from Pattanam near Paravoor, are parts of Roman wine amphora, Mesopotamian torpedo jar and Yemenite storage jar. "It is the first time that we have found evidence in Malabar coast. The clay is very different from what was used in India during the same period. A lot of black minerals are present," she says.

If this claim is true, then the pieces are the first evidence of Roman pottery to be found in Kerala. It also strengthens the theory that the port of Muziris was in the belt of Kodungallur-Chettuva.

Tomber suggests there are several factors that strengthen the belief that these are remnants of first century Roman trade. "Pottery is considered a very important evidence to solve an archaeological enigma. Here we work on typology. Such examples have also been found during excavations in Egypt," says Tomber. [more]

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CHATTER: Bananas

We haven't had one of these Alexander-discovered-this-while-conquering-the-world things in a while, so here goes ... an article about bananas suggests:

According to the Internet site, bananas were probably the first fruit farmed by man. Their history is recorded all the way back to Alexander the Great's conquest of India, where he first discovered bananas in 327 B.C.

And sure enough, there is a page at Dole which claims:

Bananas were probably the first fruit farmed by man. Their history is recorded all the way back to Alexander the Great's conquest of India, where he first discovered bananas in 327 B.C.

Not to be outdone, Chiquita claims much the same:

The earliest recordings of the existence of bananas date to 327 B.C., when Alexander the Great and his army discovered the fruit during their conquest of India.

Further digging brought up a page from China Daily, which had a promising lead:

The word banana is African, though, a word carried to the New World by Portuguese slave traders. In Alexander the Great's time, bananas were called "pala" in Athens.

... but, alas, in my just-caffeinated state,the word doesn't seem to appear in my big fat Greek dictionary (LSJ), although I have been having problems finding stuff in it lately in general (a tragic flaw, to be sure). Meanwhile, a page from the U.K., which I can only access via Google's cache, for some reason (it comes up 403 otherwise), makes Alexander's involvement somewhat more active:

The first Europeans to meet the banana were almost certainly the ancient Greeks. When Alexander the Great travelled to India, he described a strange new fruit that was later identified as a variety of banana.

I can just see the letter home ... Dear Aristotle, I stumbled, er, slipped upon the most wonderful fruit today ... In any event, I finally came to this strangely-fonted page with all sorts of anecdotes about fruit which mentioned:

the Latin name for the banana is musa sapientum,(fruit of the wise men) as named by Pliny the Elder after reading accounts of Alexander the Great's travels in India, where wise men were seen meditation under the banana plant.

Again, I can't seem to find Pliny using this term. Finally (mostly because I doubt we'll find any real info on this), there comes a page which says:

Though Alexander the Great and his men encountered bananas in India, they made little attempt to bring them back to the West.

Another imagined conversation:

Callisthenes... will you carry that big bunch of yellow things for me?

But Alexander, my hands are already full of polo mallets!

I don't care ... I have big plans for this fruit.

(muttering under his breath) That does it.  Hey ... Hermolaus!

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AWOTV: On TV Today

9.00 p.m. |DISCC| Prophets: Seers of the Future
Examine the gift of prophecy, from ancient Greek oracles and Mayan
shaman, to legendary seers like Nostradamus and Edgar Cayce, to
modern prophets and the U.S. military's remote viewing program.

DISCC = Discovery Channel (Canada)

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