Last week, on Tuesday, in a blog post about the St. Martin’s Cathedral in Mainz, I mentioned that as a kid I wanted to become an archaeologist “because they get to do cool stuff” and went on to relate about one of the cool things I got to do that day. Well, I’ve been doing cool stuff ever since. Working in the Johanniskirche (St. John’s Church) in Mainz, the second oldest church in Germany, over the past week I’ve photographed eight different graves, most of them probably dating to the seventeenth century, in which the skeletons were exposed and cleaned for documentation. Add to that taking photos of an interesting oven-like structure, several of the church’s walls, one of which had a reused engraved stone mortared into it with part of an early Christian Latin text engraved on it, several different tiled floor layers, a screed floor dated to the early Gothic period, perhaps even an opus signinum floor dating to the Roman era and several large broken fragments of a religious statue that still had traces of red and blue paint upon them and you can see that I’ve had a busy week. Cool stuff. And today one of the workers cleaning another grave found something very interesting.

Located at the knee level of the skeleton in the grave, a small head, carved out of bone, about the size of a walnut was found. Other than the fact that most of these graves do not have any grave goods at all, what made this so interesting is that one side of the head was a beautifully executed face of Christ wearing a crown of thorns, with his eyes closed and expressive lines etched in his face. The face showed a lot of feeling and emotion. The other side was an equally well carved skull with large teeth and hollow eyes. I searched for a parallel find on the Internet, but didn’t find anything like this object, though I am sure that there must be other parallels from the Middle Ages. Interpretation of the object’s meaning will be undertaken by the scientists over the next few weeks. They will look for similar objects published in the archaeological journals. But the parallel idea of life in Christ and human mortality represented by the skull is certainly one interpretation. One must also remember too that he was supposedly crucified on a hill called Golgotha, which is an Aramaic word meaning “the skull.” I’m certain that the scientists will enjoy interpreting it’s meaning. This afternoon I took the head back to our office, had the restorer clean it, and then I took a series of photos, two of which will be presented at an already scheduled lecture tomorrow evening. I joked with the excavation director, who will be using my other photos in his presentation, that the photos of the head will be the cherry on top of the cake. This excavation has been an incredible journey back through time and the history of the church.

Unfortunately because the photos I take are not my private property, but are the intellectual property of our Directorate of Cultural Heritage, I cannot post them here until they have been published along with the research results of the excavation, unless some of them are released to the public through the press. That may or may not occur over the next few days. So at the moment I can only describe my work and cannot post any photos of the skeletons or the head, which is a really cool find that I’d love to share with you. If and when I am able to post them I certainly will. For the time being though, I can provide two before and after photos of the interior of the Johanniskirche. The first photo shows the inside of the church as we were beginning the excavation in July 2013. The second photo shows the interior a few days ago. One can see that large amounts of material have been removed. The excavation will continue until the end of January 2015 with more cool stuff certain to come to light.



000 Johanniskirche 1The interior of the Johanniskirche as the excavation was beginning in early July 2013.

000 Johanniskirche 2The interior of the Johanniskirche at the end of November 2014.


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Categories: Archaeology, Perspective, Photography | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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