Weekly Roundup of Archaeology and History August 19-25

Here are some posts I enjoyed this week:

Pompeii street, photo by Immanuel Giel Wikimedia Commons

Pompeii street, photo by Immanuel Giel Wikimedia Commons

The theory that the Roman Empire fell because of lead poisoning from their pipes has been around a long time. I think single factor explanations are too simplistic as the whole picture for anything as far-flung and interwoven as the demise of a world empire, but clearly drinking lead leached fluids is a bad idea. Now some researchers are blaming it on antimony instead. Way more toxic so tiny amounts could do lots of damage, but they’ve only studied a tiny sample of pipe from Pompeii, so hard to extrapolate to the entire empire… Click here for International Business Times “Was the Fall of Rome down to bad plumbing?”

3,200 year old, Late Bronze Age, site in Israel, Libnah, reveals enough ritual evidence to be confirmed as a Canaanite temple. Objects include a stone pillar representing a deity, chalices, figurines, ceramic masks (possibly used in processions to represent gods), small vessels from Cyprus that held different kinds of oils for ritual use and giant storage jars also from Cyprus, so large and heavy far from a port that the effort to bring them and their contents to Libnah indicates activities such as ritual feasting of great importance to the people who lived there. Further study and excavation will hopefully reveal details of the elusive Canaanite religious practices. I’m always interested in the way they compare to the surrounding cultures of Hittites, Cypriots, Mycenaeans and other Near Eastern peoples. Later in the Iron Age Libnah was attacked, the residents were killed, and it came under Judahite control—which is mentioned in Joshua in the Bible and is supported by archaeological remains of stamps on jar handles saying jars’ contents “belong to the king of Judah.” Click here for Haaretz “3,200-year-old Pagan Ritual Hall Found in Israel, Archaeologists Confirm”

A portrait of a Roman girl, covered by the volcanic eruption at Herculaneum has undergone a new kind of study presented in a paper at the American Chemical Society. “Scientists now report that a new type of high-resolution X-ray technology is helping them discover just how stunning the original portrait once was, element-by-element.” This precise understanding reveals details previously invisible, such as the iron pigment used to sketch the woman initially and the green pigment used to build up a natural skin tone. It will also allow conservators to select exactly the right materials to clean and restore. “This young woman is gone forever, but our study has revealed in remarkable detail her humanity, her thoughtful expression and her beauty,” the scientist Del Federico says. Click here for American Chemical Society “Remarkable artistry hidden in ancient Roman painting revealed”


Living in Arizona, it’s pretty easy to take fresh citrus for granted. According to a study from It turns out from a study at Tel Aviv University, lemons and citrons were high status symbols among the Romans by the 1st century when they first appeared. Even citrons, which are mostly rind, with dry and pretty tasteless fruit were prized by Romans for healing qualities, symbolic use, pleasant odor and rarity. Citrus comes from Southeast Asia. Outside Asia, the earliest botanical remains were found in a Persian royal garden in Jerusalem from 5th century BCE. Much later, by the 10th century AD, Muslims brought some other citrus fruits to Northern Africa and Southern Europe and sweet oranges not until 15th century. So peel that orange with due respect for its modern style. Click here for Archaeology News Network “Citrus fruits were the clear status symbols of the nobility in the ancient Mediterranean”


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