Audio News for December 3rd to December 9th, 2006.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for December 3rd to December 9th, 2006.
Excavations in Rome reveal Emperor Maxentius’ insignia
Our first story is from Italy, where archaeologists have unearthed what they believe is the only existing imperial insignia belonging to Emperor Maxentius. Excavations under Rome's Palatine Hill unearthed three lances and four javelins that specialists say are unique and remarkably well-preserved. According to Clementina Panella, the archaeologist who made the discovery, Maxentius’ people hid the insignia in an attempt to preserve the emperor's memory after Constantine I defeated him in the AD 321 battle of the Milvian Bridge. This historical event is often considered a turning point in the history of the Roman Empire, whereby Constantine became the unchallenged ruler of the West. Some of the objects, which accompanied the emperor during his public appearances, are believed to be the base for the emperor's standards including rectangular or triangular flags. Also discovered were an imperial scepter with a carved flower and a globe and a number of glass spheres believed to be a symbolic representation of the earth. The items were found buried at a sanctuary last year and have since been restored and analyzed. The depth of the burial allows experts to date them to the early 4th century AD. According to Angelo Bottini, the state’s official for archaeology in Rome, the only similar findings and representations can be found on coins and paintings. Excavations on the Palatine in recent years have turned up discoveries such as the house of Rome's first emperor, Augustus. Archaeologists say that much has yet to be uncovered, hidden in underground passageways.
Sixth dynasty doctor’s tomb found in Egypt
In Egypt, archaeologists at Saqqara have chanced upon the wooden coffin and mummy of an unidentified man of the 30th Dynasty in the tomb of a royal physician who lived in the Sixth Dynasty, more than 4,000 years ago. The Egyptian team was cleaning the burial shaft of the tomb when they stumbled upon the coffin. According to Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, the lid of the wooden sarcophagus had excellent and well-preserved decoration and the mummy itself was in ideal condition. The linen wrappings and the funerary drawings on the mummy are still intact and the mask covering the face of the mummy is in an amazing state of preservation in spite of slight damage in the area of the mouth. The covering features a bearded man with a reddish brown face and large, open eyes lined with black powder, thick eyebrows and red lips. His garment is painted dark blue and embellished by a collar with three rows of blue, green and yellow cylindrical beads and a pendant adorned with a figure the goddess Maat. The lower part of the lid is decorated with vivid paintings of the mummified form of the four sons of Horus standing in two rows facing each other while offering linen wrappings to the deceased. Beneath is another scene of two grief-stricken women mourning the dead man. Prayers to the god of the afterlife, Osiris, are also written on the lid. The mummy and the sarcophagus now are at the Saqqara restoration laboratory. More research will be carried out on the paintings and hieroglyphic texts in order to identify the owner and the reason why it was inserted into this sarcophagus and placed in Qar's tomb. Many Saqqara tombs were re-used in the Late Period.
Tomb of the Apostle Paul discovered
In Rome, Vatican archaeologists have unearthed a coffin believed to contain the remains of the Apostle Paul that had been buried beneath Rome's second largest basilica. The sarcophagus, which dates back to AD 390, has been the subject of an excavation that began in 2002 and was completed last month. According to Giorgio Filippi, the Vatican archaeologist who headed the project, the objective was to bring the remains of the tomb back to light for devotional reasons. The interior of the sarcophagus has not yet been explored, but it has not been ruled out for the future. Two ancient churches that once stood at the site of the current basilica were built over the spot where tradition says the saint had been buried. The second church, built by the Roman emperor Theodosius in the fourth century, left the tomb visible, first above ground and later in a crypt. The current basilica was built when a fire destroyed the previous church in 1823. The ancient crypt was filled with earth and covered by a new altar. The findings of the project will be officially presented during a news conference at the Vatican.
Antiquities Act turns 100!
Our final story is from the United States where a simple commemoration marks 100 years since President Theodore Roosevelt signed the federal Antiquities Act. According to Jane Waldbaum, President of the Archaeological Institute of America, the Antiquities Act absolutely was a major step for professional archaeology. It raised the public image of archaeology to a highly responsible one. Congress chartered the Archaeological Institute of America two months after the signing of the law June 8, 1906. Under the Antiquities Act, Roosevelt proclaimed 18 National Monuments, starting with Wyoming's Devils Tower on Sept. 24, 1906. Most notably, he set aside Arizona's Grand Canyon two years later. The two-page act allowed excavation and investigation of National Monuments only "for the benefit of reputable museums, universities, colleges, or other recognized scientific or educational institutions." The act's primary effect is to allow presidents to preserve vast tracts of federal land. American treasures preserved as National Monuments include the African Burial Ground National Monument in New York and Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico. According to Francis McManamon, National Park Service chief archaeologist, pot hunting and destruction of Pueblo sites by settlers had become infamous in the decades before the law was signed. It explicitly outlawed these actions, although pothunters remain a concern today. At Chaco Canyon, where Stephen Plog of the University of Virginia has worked, a typical pattern was followed. American Museum of Natural History and National Geographic Society-backed excavations took place in the 1920s. Federal work projects built facilities there in the 1930s and more Park Service-directed excavations took place from the 1950s to the 1970s. After that, major digging efforts halted as Native Americans' demands for a voice at the table became a central concern.
Looking at old excavation records with a modern eye can uncover new findings. At Chaco's Pueblo Bonito, a 600-room ruin that once housed perhaps 1,200 people, records from the 1890s are still yielding clues. Compiled by 19th-century archaeologist George Pepper, archival records showed that 20 burials at the site considered haphazard might have had a deeper meaning. Pepper's notes showed the bodies were buried with care but, most unusually, were dismembered. Such a practice is more reminiscent of how Central American cultures of the time, such as the Classic Maya, buried their nobility, rather than the normal Native American burials then. Using technology, such as ground-penetrating radar, to get more out of archaeological sites without destroying anything is a trend at National Monuments today.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!