Audio news from March 6th to March 12th, 2011.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from March 6th to March 12th, 2011.
2000-year-old couple separated by volcano finally reunited
Our first story is from Italy, where researchers in Naples have recently reunited a married couple separated by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The volcanic eruption broke shattered a inscription on the pair’s tomb. Under construction at the time of the eruption, the tomb featured a door made of a single piece of marble, carved to resemble the type of folding wooden doors typical of Pompeian houses. Excavators in 1813 found several inscribed fragments along the Via dei Sepolcri near the tomb known as the "Tomb of the Marble Door."
According to Peter Kruschwitz and Virginia Campbell, the builder most likely displayed the inscription in a temporary fashion, later planning to embed it in the face of the tomb once the structure was completed; however, it never made it there. What remained of the inscription was stored at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. According to the original excavation report, the fragmentary inscription consisted of seven pieces of marble, but only six were together. The missing piece was in the same museum, but until now, not recognized as part of the same inscription.
While four of six pieces referred to "Lucius Caltilius Pamphilus, freedman of Lucius, member of the Collinian tribe," two fragments contained the Latin word "uxori," indicative of a wife. Kruschwitz and Campbell identified the missing spouse by painstaking analysis of photographs of various fragments of inscriptions stored at the Naples museum.
Although other small pieces are missing, the inscription is now legible and reads: "Lucius Catilius Pamphilus, freedman of Lucius, member of the Collinian tribe, for his wife Servilia, in a loving spirit." After nearly 2,000 years apart, the husband and wife were finally reunited.
An outsider to the Pompeian establishment, Caltilius Pamphilus was a former slave who took great pride in his status denoted by the way that he displays his tribal affiliation in the inscription, Kruschwitz notes. The Caltilii family became somewhat powerful at a later phase of Pompeii, under the rule of Nero. Historians believe Quintus Coelius Caltilius Iustus, a member of the governing body of the city around AD 53, was an offspring of this couple.
Baja California surveys reveal nomadic campsites
Moving on to Mexico, archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) in Ensenada, Baja California have discovered eight sites, some occupied 8,000 years ago by nomadic groups. The unknown sites emerged during recent archaeological survey work performed ahead of the upgrading of the San Felipe-Laguna Chapala highway.
The camps, several of which were located within caves or rock shelters, relate to three eras of occupation. Evidence of bonfires were also located at each occupation level,
According to the archaeologists, the earliest people to make use of these sites were small groups who traveled from the mountains to the coastline of the Sea of Cortes to fish. Preliminary studies suggest three distinct periods. One dates back 8,000 to 9,000 years. A second Paleo-Indian period is 3,000 years old and a third is 1000 years old. at least 8,000 years ago. The lithic tools found at the settlements were mainly obsidian and show similarities to those found in Riverside County, California, United States.
Antonio Porcayo, the archaeological field director, explained that these discoveries will help to understand more about the history of Baja California including the archaeology surrounding the Sea of Cortes. He added that among the most exciting pieces of information gained from the campsites is the obsidian trade that appeared to be happening. Archaeological sites at Riverside in the United States have yielded obsidian similar to that obtained from deposits at these sites.
Other materials discovered within the camps include pipe fragments, stone implements such as arrowheads, pottery, and the remains of mollusks, shark, dolphin, deer, wild sheep and pronghorn antelope.
“Roman roads” in Britain may not be Roman after all
Our third story takes us to Shropshire English, where archaeologists have found the country's oldest engineered road, a discovery that could change a key aspect of British history. The roads suggest that ancient Britons were building finely engineered, arched and skillfully stoned roads before the Emperor Claudius's conquering legions ever set foot in the country in the middle of the 1st century BC. With this discovery, many of the country's key roads, long thought to be Roman origin, could turn out to be more British than scholars had thought.
According to Tim Malim, an archaeologist from the UK environmental planning consultancy and co-director of the excavation, the traditional view has often been that Iron Age Britons were unsophisticated people civilized by the Romans. This attitude is largely rooted in the late 19th century when Britain saw itself very much as the new Rome, bringing civilization to the rest of the world. However, it now appears that native peoples built the Shropshire road up to 100 years before the Romans conquered Britain. Researchers have found two sections, totaling 400 meters, but their alignment suggests that the road connected two key political centers of the Iron Age tribal kingdom of the Cornovii and may have been 40 miles long.
The discovery demonstrates the complexity of British Iron Age cross-country road construction. First, workers laid down a brushwood foundation, made of elder. Then they placed a layer of silt on top of the brushwood, and finally they set a layer of cobbles into the silt to provide a good surface. They even constructed a curb system, kept in place by timber uprights, to prevent the Iron Age highway from slumping. The pre-Roman people regularly maintained the road and resurfaced it at least twice.
The excavations, funded by one the UK's largest building materials company, has also provided information about the wheeled traffic using the Iron Age highway. Prior to the final phase of use, there is no evidence for heavy wheeled vehicles. However, in the very late Iron Age, there seems to have been a dramatic increase in heavy traffic, shown by deep ruts caused by large wheeled vehicles, almost certainly carts carrying agricultural produce. The rut evidence suggests that the vehicles had axle widths of 1.9 meter and wheels that were 12 to 17 centimeters wide. The findings are likely to prompt archaeologists in other parts of Britain to re-examine some more typically Roman-looking roads to see whether they were originally British native Iron Age ones.
Well-known Egyptologist Zahi Hawass resigns as Antiquities Minister
Our final story is a follow up from Egypt, where prominent Egyptologist Zahi Hawass has announced his resignation as Antiquities Minster. Though he has not reported this on his frequently updated blog, he spoke to media outlets last week. The New York Times quotes him as saying that if the new Egyptian government asked him to continue his position, he would not accept.
On CNN, Hawass commented that the police have been unable to protect Egypt's cultural heritage and that his resignation is a protest to show that not enough has been done to protect these sites and treasures. Some believe the publicity-astute Hawass is putting a positive spin on the fact that as a friend of deposed president Hosni Mubarak, who promoted him to a newly created cabinet post in late January, he might not be welcome in the new Egypt.
Last month, concerned students and archaeologists staged a protest demanding his resignation, seeing his authoritarian tactics as a symbol of the Mubarak regime. It is doubtful that the 1,000 archaeology internships he subsequently promised did much to soothe their anger. Since then, Hawass posted an extensive list on his blog of sites allegedly looted since Mubarak left power, including storerooms for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's excavation site at Dahshur.
Met director Thomas P. Campbell said in a statement that the looters raided the storerooms weeks ago, raising the question of why Hawass, who consistently downplayed the scale of the looting, is reporting on its full extent now. The Met did not disclose this information because the objects excavated at the site belong to Egypt, not the museum, and information about the looting was confusing initially. Last month, Hawass somewhat belatedly reported the looting of Cairo's Egyptian Museum, raising questions of whether he had withheld the information for political reasons.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!