Friday, May 29, 2015

Historian mapping out a new view of the Medieval world

Maps show us the way and identify major landmarks – rivers, towns, roads and hills. For centuries, they also offered a perspective on how societies viewed themselves in comparison to the rest of the world. New research looks at maps from the medieval and early-modern Muslim world.

Classic KMMS world map, “??rat al-Ar?” (Picture of the World), from an abbreviated copy of al-I??akhr?’s Kit?b al-mas?lik wa-al-mam?lik (Book of Routes and Realms). 589/1193. Mediterranean. East is on top.
Credit: Courtesy Leiden University Libraries. Cod. Or. 3101, fols. 4b–5a.

Karen Pinto, assistant professor of history at Boise State University, is researching a book project titled "The Mediterranean in the Islamic Cartographic Imagination," which looks at maps from the medieval and early-modern Muslim world. Her research is funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Modern humans migrated out of Africa via Egypt, suggests genetic study

How and when the first modern human populations emerged out of Africa to settle Europe and Asia has been at the center of a long-standing debate among researchers and scholars. The results of a new genetic study, however, suggests that modern humans made their first successful major migration out of Africa around 55,000 – 60,000 years ago through Egypt, and not from further south through Ethiopia, as suggested by another proposed theory.
Dr. Luca Pagani, of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the University of Cambridge in the UK, and his colleagues analyzed the genetic information from six modern Northeast African populations (100 Egyptians, and five Ethiopian populations each represented by 25 people).
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New human ancestor species from Ethiopia lived alongside Lucy's species

Holotype upper jaw of a new human ancestor species found on March 4, 2011. 
Credit: Yohannes Haile-Selassie, Cleveland Museum of Natural History

A new relative joins "Lucy" on the human family tree. An international team of scientists, led by Dr. Yohannes Haile-Selassie of The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, has discovered a 3.3 to 3.5 million-year-old new human ancestor species. Upper and lower jaw fossils recovered from the Woranso-Mille area of the Afar region of Ethiopia have been assigned to the new species Australopithecus deyiremeda. This hominin lived alongside the famous "Lucy's" species, Australopithecus afarensis. The species will be described in the May 28, 2015 issue of the international scientific journal Nature.

Lucy's species lived from 2.9 million years ago to 3.8 million years ago, overlapping in time with the new species Australopithecus deyiremeda. The new species is the most conclusive evidence for the contemporaneous presence of more than one closely related early human ancestor species prior to 3 million years ago. The species name "deyiremeda" (day-ihreme-dah) means "close relative" in the language spoken by the Afar people.

Australopithecus deyiremeda differs from Lucy's species in terms of the shape and size of its thick-enameled teeth and the robust architecture of its lower jaws. The anterior teeth are also relatively small indicating that it probably had a different diet.

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Mystery Deepens Over Rare Roman Tombstone

Mystery has deepened over a Roman tombstone unearthed earlier this year in western England, as new research revealed it had no link with the skeleton laying beneath it.
The inscribed stone was discovered during the construction work of a parking lot in Cirencester.
Made from Cotswold limestone, it was found laying on its front in a grave — directly above an adult skeleton.
When it was turned over, the honey colored stone revealed fine decorations and five lines of Latin inscription which read: “D.M. BODICACIA CONIUNX VIXIT ANNO S XXVII,” possibly meaning: “To the shades of the underworld, Bodicacia, spouse, lived 27 years.”
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New finds at Plassi, Marathon in Attica

This year’s excavations of the Prehistoric-Classical site of Plassi, Marathon in Attica, conducted by the University of Athens, have been completed last week. The survey of the site began last year. 

Buildings and pottery kiln of the Prehistoric era 
[Credit: National and  Kapodistrian University of Athens] 

The Plassi excavation has once again brought to light important finds showing that the site remained the most important settlement of the Marathon plain from the end of the Neolithic period (ca 3500 BC) until the Late Roman years (300 AD).

During this year’s excavation season the trial trenches of 1969 (made by archaeologists Sp. Marinatos and E. Mastrokosta) were revealed and cleaned and new ones were opened, in order to answer questions which had remained unanswered.

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Brumath-Brocomagus, Civitas Capital of the Triboci

Brumath-Brocomagus, Civitas Capital of the Triboci

Exhibition at Musée Archéologique, Strasburg

until 31 December 2015

Occasioned by urban redevelopment projects involving housing schemes and business parks, the numerous successive archaeological excavations of recent decades in the town of Brumath and its surrounding area have helped to renew and considerably widen our knowledge of the antique city. Today, the wealth of discoveries prompts us to make an initial assessment of the settlement's development and the history of the territory of Brumath from Prehistory to the early Middle Ages. Central to the exhibition will be a review of the expansion of the Gallo-Roman city: urban topography, public and private buildings, aspects of daily life, production and trade, beliefs and religion, graveyards and funeral rites. The visitor will thus be offered an overall vision of the different aspects of Romanization and urban life in Alsace under Roman rule. 

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Dark Side of Medieval Convent Life Revealed

The skeleton of a sinner woman buried in face down. Her lower legs had been truncated by a later burial of an infant.

British archaeologists excavating a church site in Oxford have brought to light the darker side of medieval convent life, revealing skeletons of nuns who died in disgrace after being accused of immoral behavior.
Discovered ahead of the construction of a new hotel, the burial ground stretches around what used to be Littlemore Priory, a nunnery founded in 1110 and dissolved in 1525.
Archaeologists led by Paul Murray, of John Moore Heritage Services, found 92 skeletons of women, men and children.
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Secrets of Staffordshire Hoard Revealed

  • Hundreds of fragments grouped together to reveal remains of incredibly rare high status helmet
  • Unique form of sword pommel also uncovered
  • Historic England gives £400,000 towards research but £120,000 still needed

Ground breaking research and conservation of the Staffordshire Hoard has uncovered two internationally important objects that link us to an age of warrior splendour, and further our knowledge of seventh century Anglo-Saxon England.

Historic England, has given £400,000 to help reveal the secrets of the Staffordshire Hoard

and increase public understanding of this unique archaeological treasure. The research will culminate in an online catalogue, launched in 2017. The following year will see a major publication exploring the Hoard in more depth, the objects’ meanings and how they relate to each other. The owners of the Hoard, Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent City Councils, and Birmingham Museums Trust and the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery who care for it on their behalf, have also contributed towards the research.

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Staffordshire Hoard sword and helmet reconstructed

Thousands of metal fragments from the Staffordshire Hoard have been reconstructed into two "significant" new 7th Century objects. 

Front view of the sword pommel reconstructed from 26 fragments  found in the Staffordshire Hoard [Credit: Birmingham Museums Trust] 

Researchers have pieced together parts of a silver helmet and a previously unseen form of sword pommel. 

The hoard, which is valued at £3.2m, was found in a field near Burntwood, Staffordshire in July 2009. 

Both items have been put on display at Birmingham's Museum and Art Gallery from Tuesday. 

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Il y a 35 000 ans, les Aurignaciens, premiers hommes modernes à occuper la grotte du Mas d’Azil

Une équipe d’archéologues et de géo-archéologues de l’Inrap et du laboratoire Traces (CNRS – université de Toulouse Jean Jaurès), intervient depuis 2011, sur prescription de l’État (Drac Midi-Pyrénées), dans la grotte-tunnel du Mas d’Azil en Ariège.

Ces recherches préventives et programmées s’intègrent dans un vaste projet de valorisation et de compréhension du site. Les multiples opérations préventives sont liées aux divers aménagements touristiques de la grotte (parcours, bâtiment d’accueil…) et à la mise en sécurité de la route départementale la traversant. Elles se doublent d’un programme complet d’étude archéologique et géologique sur le terrain : une étude méticuleuse centrée sur les occupations préhistoriques durant la dernière grande glaciation (entre -40 000 et -13 000). Mais la grotte joue aussi le rôle d’enregistreur climatique et témoigne des alternances entre des périodes très inhospitalières et des phases plus clémentes, pendant lesquelles les groupes préhistoriques accèdent à l’intérieur de la cavité.

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Evidence of 430,000-year-old human violence found

Human remains from a cave in northern Spain show evidence of a lethal attack 430,000 years ago, a study has shown.
Researchers examined one skull from a site called the Pit of Bones, which contains the remains of at least 28 people.
They concluded that two fractures on that skull were likely to have been caused by "multiple blows" and imply "an intention to kill".

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'New species' of ancient human found

Researchers say the jaw bones and teeth are unlike any they have seen before

A new species of ancient human has been unearthed in the Afar region of Ethiopia, scientists report.
Researchers discovered jaw bones and teeth, which date to between 3.3m and 3.5m years old.
It means this new hominin was alive at the same time as several other early human species, suggesting our family tree is more complicated than was thought.
The new species has been called Australopithecus deyiremeda, which means "close relative" in the language spoken by the Afar people.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Orkney Islanders are 25 percent Norwegian

This is how the populace of the Orkney Islands lived 5,000 years ago. The Stone Age settlement Skara Brae is preserved so well that it is referred to as “Scotland’s Pompeii”. Recently it was discovered that the Orkney Islanders still have a surprising amount of DNA from the people who dwelled there long before the Vikings arrived. (Photo: Georg Mathisen)

They are proud of their Viking ancestors but are not as Norwegian as they might think. The lion’s share of the genes of Orkney Islanders can be traced to the native peoples who lived their several millennia before Norwegians invaded and annexed the islands in the 9th century.
Mapping genes
British and Australian researchers have mapped the genetic structure of today’s Brits. They found that the only place where the Viking inheritance is genetically strong is the Orkney Islands. Orkney were under Norwegian rule for centuries and as a result, 25 percent of Orkney Islanders’ genes can be traced to Norway.
The locals tend to be enthusiastic about their Viking heritage, which has now also been strongly identified in their genes:
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Danish Bronze Age girl may have been German

One of Denmark's proudest relics may not be Danish after all, researchers have found.

In a feat of laboratory sleuthing, scientists on Thursday provided a background to a mysterious Bronze Age teenager who died in modern-day Denmark 3,400 years ago.
The "Egtved Girl," uncovered at a village in the Jutland peninsula, was probably born in southwestern Germany and may have been married off to cement ties between powerful families, they said.
One of Denmark's proudest relics, the Egtved Girl was found in 1921 at a burial mound, inside an oak coffin that dates her interment to a summer's day in the year 1370 BC.

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Archaeologists put Roman gateway on wishlist after finding ancient water tank at Vindolanda fort

Fine carving for Roman goddess of hunting and first copper lock barrel in 34 years among finds in Roman north-east

Archaeologists are hoping to find a gate and its stone inscription after discovering tank features, buildings, a roadway, animal bones, pens, hairpins and barrels during the first two excavation sessions of the year at Vindolanda, the Roman fort near Hadrian’s Wall.

Facing snow and torrential rain during their early investigations – conditions they admit were “horrendous” – the team uncovered a free-standing water tank and a depiction of a hare and hound carved for Diana, the goddess of hunting.

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Our bond with dogs may go back more than 27,000 years

Dogs' special relationship to humans may go back 27,000 to 40,000 years, according to genomic analysis of an ancient Taimyr wolf bone reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biologyon May 21. Earlier genome-based estimates have suggested that the ancestors of modern-day dogs diverged from wolves no more than 16,000 years ago, after the last Ice Age.
The genome from this ancient specimen, which has been radiocarbon dated to 35,000 years ago, reveals that the Taimyr wolf represents the most recent common ancestor of modern wolves and dogs.
"Dogs may have been domesticated much earlier than is generally believed," says Love Dalén of the Swedish Museum of Natural History. "The only other explanation is that there was a major divergence between two wolf populations at that time, and one of these populations subsequently gave rise to all modern wolves." Dalén considers this second explanation less likely, since it would require that the second wolf population subsequently became extinct in the wild.
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Unique Early Christian floor mosaics have been re-excavated by Bulgarian archaeologists working on the restoration of the 5th century AD Great Basilica in Plovdiv. Photo: Plovdiv24

Bulgarian archaeologists and restorers have revealed beautiful Early Christian floor mosaics in the 5thcentury AD Great Basilica whose re-excavation, restoration, and conservation started two weeks agoin the southern city of Plovdiv.
The Early Byzantine Great Basilica in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv was discovered in the 1980s but its ruins andunique floor mosaics have been re-buried with soil and sand as a means of preserving them in anticipation of the resolution of legal disputes over the property, and the securing of sufficientfunding for the further excavation and conservation of the site.
The project for the excavation and restoration of the 5th century Great Basilica in the Southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv is going to focus on the recovery, restoration, and conservation of its Early Christian mosaics.
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Archaeological find at Norton Bridge turns out to be from Saxon period

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have discovered a wooden butter churn lid unearthed at Norton Bridge is from the Saxon period following scientific tests.
Evidence of prehistoric activity was uncovered in the same area of the site and archaeologists believed the butter churn could be from the same period.
But radiocarbon tests have revealed the lid of the butter churn dates from the early medieval period when the area was part of the Mercian kingdom.
The tests have put a fragment of wood found with the lid as dating between AD715-890, so the lid is from the same period as the Staffordshire Hoard.
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Amazing medieval hospital find halts York panto plans

PLANS for Berwick Kaler’s 37th writing and starring role in Christmas pantomime Dick Whittington (and his Meerkat) at York Theatre Royal have had to be abandoned following the important find of a medieval hospital foundations beneath the venue during its £4m redevelopment.
The panto will now be staged at the 1,000-seat purpose-built theatre at York's National Railway Museum.
The tight 27-week schedule always had a back-up plan, and archaeologists and builders are working extended hours to complete necessary work. Over the last few weeks the archaeological finds under the stage and in the auditorium have been staggering and bigger than previously predicted.
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The Viking’s grave and the sunken ship

Mapping archaeological digs takes plenty of time and a lot of measuring, photographing, drawing and note taking. Now, most of this work can be done with a technique called photogrammetry. 

Detailed image of a shield boss found in what is likely a Viking’s  grave in Skaun 
[Credit: NTNU University Museum] 

Photogrammetry is a method that uses two-dimensional images of an archaeological find to construct a 3D model. 

You don't need and special glasses or advanced equipment to use make use of this new technique. Together with precise measurements of the excavation, photogrammetry can create a complete detailed map of an archaeological excavation site. 

"This is still a very new technique," say archaeologists Raymond Sauvage and Fredrik Skoglund of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's University Museum. 

Photogrammetry is in many ways much more precise than older, more time-consuming methods.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Oldest stone tools pre-date earliest humans

The tools includes sharp-edged flakes, hammers and anvils

The world's oldest stone tools have been discovered, scientists report.
They were unearthed from the shores of Lake Turkana in Kenya, and date to 3.3 million years ago.
They are 700,000 years older than any tools found before, even pre-dating the earliest humans in the Homo genus.
The find, reported in Nature, suggests that more ancient species, such asAustralopithecus afarensis or Kenyanthropus platyops, may have been more sophisticated than was thought.
"They are significantly earlier than anything that has been found previously," said Dr Nick Taylor, from the National Centre of Scientific Research (CNRS) in France and the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Roman mosaics damaged during botched restoration, Turkish officials say

At least 10 priceless mosaics held in the Hatay Archaeology Museum in Turkeyhave been badly damaged during restoration, officials and craftsmen have said.
The Roman mosaics, some of which date back to the second century, include world-famous panels depicting the sacrifice of Isaac and another of Narcissus. The museum in Turkey’s southern province of Hatay houses one of the world’s largest collections of mosaics.
Authorities have launched an investigation following reports that restoration has distorted the mosaics’ features and left them looking markedly different from the valuable originals.
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Fashionable Vikings loved colours, fur, and silk

The year is 873 and Frida is deciding what to wear. Her new red dress is finally ready, as are her freshly polished shell-shaped brooches designed to hold it in place at her shoulders. The dress is the newest cut in Viking fashion.
Of course, we don’t know exactly how such a scenario played out. Nevertheless, to a Viking woman, Frida’s dress in vibrant red with matching brooches could have been hugely popular. In fact, red and blue were among the most popular colours in the Viking Age.
But did the Vikings really have fashion on the mind?
"Yes," says Ulla Mannering from the Centre for Textile Research at the National Museum in Copenhagen.
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Turkey: Investigation over 'ruined' Roman mosaics

Turkey's culture ministry is investigating reports that a number of valuable Roman mosaics were badly damaged during botched restoration work at an archaeological museum, according to Turkish media.
Authorities are looking into the claims of a local craftsman who raised concerns over the condition of at least 10 mosaics at the Hatay Archaeology Museum, the Hurriyet Daily News website reports. Mehmet Daskapan first spoke out in an interview with a local paper in February, but the news was only picked up by mainstream Turkish media on Monday. "Valuable pieces from the Roman period have been ruined," Mr Daskapan told the Antakya Gazetesi website at the time. "They have become caricatures of their former selves. Some are in an especially poor condition and have lost their originality and value."
Before and after photos of the mosaics presented by Mr Daskapan show the "restored" versions looking significantly different to the originals. Some stones appear to have been replaced with different colours and shapes, changing the facial expressions of the characters depicted. A report on the Radikal website has suggested the images could have been Photoshopped, but the site later noted that the region's governor had nonetheless closed off the section housing the mosaics in question.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Viking 'forest' language set for Nordic preschool

A rare Nordic language used by a tiny forest community is set to be taught in a preschool in central Sweden. Elfdalian, which shares some similarities with Old Norse is a hot topic at an international linguistics conference in Copenhagen this week, as Scandinavian language experts campaign to stop it dying out.

It might sound like something from Lord of The Rings or The Local's recent April Fool's Day prank but Elfdalian is a real language currently used by around 2500 people in central Sweden and is understood to date back to Viking times.

Previously regarded as a Swedish dialect, leading linguistics experts now consider it a separate language and are battling to save it, after figures emerged that less than 60 children can currently speak it.

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Bulgarian archaeologist Ivan Hristov shows the heater of the Ancient Roman Jacuzzi in the “luxury” Roman road station at the Sostra Fortress located near Bulgaria’s Troyan. 

Bulgarian archaeologist Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ivan Hristov has discovered a heater for an Ancient Roman Jacuzzi during the ongoing excavations of the Roman road station at the Sostra Fortress near the central town of Troyan.

The Roman road station, which was first found by Hristov’s team in the spring of 2014 and is presently being excavated further, has itself been described as a “luxury” Roman motel because of the amenities that it offered for the Roman travelers taking the Via Trajana, the road used by Roman Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117 AD).

The newly found heater for a Roman Jacuzzi consists of a furnace heating up air which is then directed to a shallow pool similar to a modern-day Jacuzzi, reports local news site

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Medieval 'Witch Girl' Likely Just Suffered From Scurvy

A Medieval teenage girl found buried face-down last year in northern Italy suffered from scurvy and was rejected by her community, according to new study of her burial.

Dubbed by Italian media as "the witch girl," the skeleton was unearthed in September 2014 at the complex of San Calocero in Albenga on the Ligurian Riviera, by a team of the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology at the Vatican.

The site, a burial ground on which a martyr church dedicated to San Calocero was built around the 5th and 6th centuries A.D., was completely abandoned in 1593.

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Prehistoric man with shield found after dig

An archeological dig in Pocklington has unearthed a prehistoric man buried with a shield.

The skeleton was found in one of the square barrows at the recently discovered Iron Age burial ground on Burnby Lane, which is where developer David Wilson Homes is planning to build 77 new houses.

MAP Archaeological Practice, the company which is carrying out the excavation work, says it has also discovered a man “of an impressive stature.”

The site has so far yielded more than 38 square barrows and in excess of 82 burials.

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800-year-old rune stick unearthed during excavation of Danish city

The little stick found underneath the streets of Odense, Denmark’s third largest city, is only 8.5 centimetres in length -- but it isn’t just any old stick. The so-called rune stick was made in the early 13th century, said Odense City Museums in a press release.
Archaeologists have been digging for a long time at the excavation beneath I. Vilhelm Werners Square in Odense and they were actually just about to stop when they found three pieces of wood which fitted together to make up the rune stick.
It isn’t easy to decipher what the runes say and the stick itself is extremely fragile, explained rune expert and senior researcher Lisbeth Imer from the National Museum of Denmark in the press release.
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Neolithic fishing spear found in southern Denmark

At the archaeological investigations ahead of the construction of the future Fehmarn Belt Fixed Link, archaeologists from Museum Lolland-Falster have found an object that attracts particular attention. Jammed into the marine sediments was the head part of a fragmented fishing leister consisting of parts from both lateral prongs and a bone point slightly offset between them. It has long been presumed that there was a link between leister prongs and bone points, but this is probably the first time the connection has been documented in practice. The find thus confirms a theory that has been supported by archaeologists for decades, and which has been indicated by anthropological examples as well.

The Stone Age fishing leister, as it was found  [Credit: Museum Lolland-Falster]

"It is quite amazing that we have made a find that can help prove an old theory. So far, we have found a large number of individual leister prongs and bone points, but when we found them combined, it was quite remarkable. At last we are able to positively confirm the old theory because of this find," says Søren Anker Sørensen archaeologist at Museum Lolland-Falster.

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Niedergermanischer Limes soll UNESCO-Welterbe werden

Nordrhein-Westfalen, Rheinland-Pfalz und die Niederlande wollen den Niedergermanischen Limes als Welterbe bei der UNESCO anmelden. Das sieht eine Vereinbarung der beiden Bundesländer mit den Niederlanden vor, die im LVR-LandesMuseum Bonn unterzeichnet wurde.

Der Niedergermanische Limes verlief auf 385 Kilometern Länge entlang des Rheins von Remagen in Rheinland-Pfalz bis Katwijk an Zee als Grenzeinrichtung gegenüber dem feindlichen freien Germanien. Der komplette Verlauf entlang eines Flusses und seine besonders lange Existenz unterscheiden ihn von den anderen Limesabschnitten.

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17th Medieval Dublin Symposium

The 17th Medieval Dublin Symposium will be held on Saturday, 16 May 2015.

There is no registration, admission is free and all are welcome.

Further information...