Audio News for April 11th to April 17th
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and
these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from
April 11th to April 17th, 2005.
Pompeii reveals Iron Age ancestry
Our first story is from Pompeii, where Swedish archaeologists have discovered a Stone Age settlement covered in ash under the ruins of the ancient city. The findings indicate the volcano Vesuvius swallowed up the area in lava more than 3,500 years before the famous AD 79 eruption. The find was described by Anne-Marie Leander Touati, a professor of archaeology at Stockholm University and the leader of the team. Researchers were mapping a Roman neighborhood of Pompeii when they discovered the burnt wood and grains of corn in the earth below the city. The remains have been carbon dated to approximately 3,500 BC, which is a much earlier date for Pompeii’s first settlement than anyone had believed. The remains were found when the group emptied a Roman-era well to determine its use. They were covered in a thick layer of ash. On top of that a layer of ceramic shards was found. Additional geological layers lay on top of that, and on top those layers all were the ruins of Pompeii. Pompeii was buried under an ash-flow when Vesuvius. The excellently preserved ruins have become one of the world's most visited archaeological sites.
Colonial Jamestown yields rare early armor
In the United States, scientists sifting through the remains of Jamestown have discovered a rare, nearly intact piece of Elizabethan era body armor known as a coat of jacks. A coat of jacks was a quilted canvas-and-iron-plate garment, the colonial version of a modern-day flack jacket. Historians knew these were used by 17th-century settlers as a defense against Indian attacks, but few examples have survived. It is unusual for an archaeological example to last after being buried in the ground for so long. Archaeologist Luke Pecoraro unearthed the distinctive overlapping fish-scale pattern of the coat of jacks while excavating a pit inside the west wall of James Fort. Supported by an underlying pedestal of soil, the fragile artifact was removed from the site and will undergo extensive treatment for preservation. According to conservator Michael Lavin, all of the fabric was gone and the iron pieces are rusted together in place like fish scales. Using cheese- cloth and a temporary substance or consolidant to try to keep all the plates together, he estimates it will take at least six months to finish the preservation. Records from the earliest years of the Jamestown Colony indicate that King James I sent a large supply of old armor and weapons to aid the settlers after the catastrophic Indian uprising of 1622. Although considered obsolete in England by that time, the sleeveless coat continued to see use in Virginia as one means of protection against the attacks. One other partially intact example of a coat of jacks, also known as a jack of plate, was unearthed at an archaeological site near Hopewell, Virginia, more than 10 years ago. While that discovery dated to about 1625 and may have been part of King James' armor shipment, the new find appears to come from a much earlier context. Previous evidence shows that the Jamestown settlers were cutting solid armor into squares or jacks by 1610 or earlier. It is thus possible that this find was made in Virginia rather than shipped from England.
High-tech reading process reveals long-lost Classical texts
At Oxford University, a huge array of previously unintelligible manuscripts from ancient Greece and Rome are being read for the very first time thanks to infrared light. The breakthrough was hailed as the classical equivalent of finding the Holy Grail. This new technology could see the number of accounted-for ancient manuscripts increase by one fifth, and may even lead to the unveiling of some lost Christian gospels. The researchers at the University are using the technology to bring back into view faded ink on thousands of papyrus scrolls salvaged from an ancient rubbish dump in the 19th century. The collection is from the now-disappeared town of Oxyrhynchus (OX-a-RINK-us) in Egypt. It has been stored in the Sackler library in Oxford, where it is the largest of its kind in the world. The technology being used is called a "multi-spectral imaging process." It was developed for producing images from satellite surveys. This version of it uses infrared light to reveal ink invisible to the eye. Oxyrynchus manuscript material ranges from as early as the 7th century BC and includes work by classical writers such as Sophocles, Euripides and Hesiod (HEZ-ee-ud). But many of the manuscripts have decayed and blackened over time. Those uncovered so far include parts a long-lost tragedy called "The Progeny", by Sophocles, the 5th century BC Greek playwright, and part of a lost novel by Lucian, a 2nd century Greek writer. There is also an epic poem by Archilochos (ar-KILL-uh-cus), a 7th century successor of Homer. It describes events leading up to the Trojan War. Dr. Dirk Obbink, who is leading the imaging work, said it had far-reaching significance. He said the Oxyrhynchus collection is of unparalleled importance - especially now that it can be read fully and relatively quickly. The material will shed light on virtually every aspect of life in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt, and, by extension, the classical world as a whole. Oxyrhynchus, situated on a tributary of the Nile 100 miles south of Cairo, was a prosperous regional capital and the third city of Egypt, with 35,000 people. The city was founded by Greek immigrants, who left behind tons of papyri upon which slaves trained in Greek had documented the community’s life and arts. Oxford’s researchers started salvaging 100,000 fragments of papyri from the town’s rubbish dump in 1897 and shipped some 800 containers back to Britain. About 2,000 pieces of the papyri have been published and mounted in glass, but the rest has remained in boxes. According to the current research team, the mass of unedited material represents the random waste paper of seven centuries of Greco-Egyptian life. Estimates are that 10% of it is literary, the fragmentary remains of ancient books, with the rest documents of public and private life, such as census returns, tax assessments, court records, wills, horoscopes and private letters.
New texts are found from time of Darius the Great
Our final story is from Iran, where archaeologists have succeeded in deciphering text found on an old stone monument discovered in Boushehr (boo-SHARE). It is believed to be a proclamation of Darius the Great, King of the Achaemenids (ACK-ah-MEAN-ids). Excavation at the old palace of Bardak-e Siah in Boushehr led to the discovery of the stone tablet, containing the passage in New Babylonian with a relief of Darius the Great. Specialists in ancient languages were successful in reading and interpreting the text, which is part of a longer original inscription. It says: "... I put ... on top of the gate...". The stone inscription is part of the base of a column. The portions that held the beginning and ending of the inscription are broken and a large part is still uncovered, leaving experts with one line of inscription. In the Achaemenid era, each tablet was usually inscribed not only in New Babylonian, but also in New Elamite and Ancient Persian, and therefore, the archaeology team is looking to find the rest of the Darius tablet.
That wraps up the news for this week! For more stories and daily news updates, visit Archaeologica on the World Wide Web at www.archaeologica.org , where all the news is history! I’m Laura Kelley and I’ll see you next week!