Audio News for October 23rd to October 29th, 2005.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from October 23rd to October 29th, 2005.
Reconstructing the wine tastes of King Tut
Our first story is about a new tool archaeologists can now use to discover the color of ancient wine. This technique was applied to the long-standing mystery of what was inside the jars, or amphorae,
found in the tomb of the great Egyptian king Tutankhamen. These findings have been presented at the British Museum in London. A team at the University of Barcelona studied residues from the scrapings of eight of the jars from Tutankhamun’s tomb. Maria Rosa Guasch-Jane, inventor of the process, discovered that the most valued drink in ancient Egypt, shedeh, was made of red grapes. The vessels were labeled in much the same way as those of today, with the year of harvest, ownership, origin, quality and winemaker’s name. What the ancient labels omitted, however, was the wine’s color. Several clues had led scientists to believe that the wine may have been red. For example, drawings from the time of grapes being pressed into wine were red and purple. Not until this process was carried out that archaeologists were able to verify the color of King Tut's wine. This was accomplished by detecting a color compound not found in white wine called syringic acid. Winemaking dates to 5400 B.C., according to American molecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern, who discovered the earliest known traces of grape residue in northern Iran in 1994. Grapevines are not native to Egypt. Scientists believe the first wine discovered in Egypt, buried in King Scorpion's tomb in about 3125 BC, was produced in Jordan and transported 500 miles. Eventually, grapevines were planted in Egypt. Tutankhamen ascended the throne at the age of about 8. Analysis of his mummy suggests that he was about 17 when he died. Ancient Egyptians believed in equipping a body for the afterlife, and Tutankhamun was buried with 26 vessels of wine for his funerary meals.
Construction in Ireland reveals new sites
In Ireland, nineteen archaeological sites including a Neolithic settlement and an early medieval cemetery have been discovered along a proposed road upgrade. The archaeological testing currently being carried out by Archaeological Development Services, Ltd., is nearing its final excavations. An early medieval farmstead was located on a small natural rise in the landscape. According to Archaeological Development Services, initial results suggest it is an early medieval, AD 400-1169, farmstead that has been expanded several times before being finally used as a cemetery for the wider local community. An underground passageway measuring 120 feet was also found; it appears to have been deliberately de-capped in ancient times. The site is also home to a large number of early Christian graves; currently around 700 have been identified. A Neolithic settlement in the townland of Plaster comprised two rectangular structures, probably houses, each measuring around 27 by 18 feet. Researchers identified a cairn at Aghnaskeagh, which is recorded in the Louth Archaeological Survey as an 'unclassified megalithic tomb' which lies partly in the road. This megalithic tomb dates between 4000-2500 BC and while around 40 percent of the site lies outside the road and will be preserved in situ, the remaining 60 percent, which is affected by the new road, is currently under excavation.
Ancient Indian burial site uncovered in Shelter Island, New York
In the United States, bones and artifacts believed to be from an early American Indian burial site were discovered in Riverhead county park, on Long Island, New York, near a riverbank eroded in stormy weather. Archaeologists said that the site contained bones from at least two people buried during the Early Woodland period, from 800 BC to AD 800. It also contained artifacts including a pipe and fragments of a bowl. According to David Thompson, vice president of the Suffolk County Archaeological Association, the bones were in small pieces and obviously burnt. They included charred pieces of skull and small pieces of a jawbone. Their cremation is a connection with a culture that immediately preceded the Early Woodland, called the Transitional Culture. In addition, researchers found an exquisite ceramic pipe about four inches long that was nearly intact and inscribed with an interesting geometric detail. Forensic anthropologist Vincent Stefan, a professor at Lehman College, declared that there were not enough of the remains to compare with modern Native American populations. He was able to conclude only that he had fragments from two or three individuals who had been intentionally burned. Elizabeth Haile, a Shinnecock leader who serves on the Graves Protection Committee of the Intertribal Historic Preservation Task Force, said, "I'm looking forward to being further informed, and we would cooperate with them. It should be honored, and then it should be protected because it's somebody's cemetery." This is the first significant American Indian burial ground uncovered in the area since a Shelter Island resident - digging a barn foundation - uncovered remains two years ago. Shinnecock leaders have been developing a policy for Shelter Island and other towns on what to do with such discoveries.
Researchers seek to recreate Archimedes’ death ray
In our final story, a modern-day recreation of Archimedes powerful weapon supposedly used to set a Roman fleet ablaze appears to have failed. In a curious quest for scientific validation, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Arizona set out to recreate Archimedes' fabled death ray in an experiment sponsored by the Discovery Channel program MythBuster. According to sparse historical writings, the Greek mathematician Archimedes torched a fleet of invading Roman ships by reflecting the sun's powerful rays with a mirrored device made of glass or bronze. Now more than 2,000 years later, attempts to set fire to an 80-year-old fishing boat using the researchers’ own version of the device failed to either prove or dispel the myth of the solar death ray. The MIT team's first attempt with their contraption made of 300 square feet of bronze and glass failed to ignite a fire from 150 feet away. It produced smoldering on the boat's wooden surface but no open flame. A second attempt from about 75 feet away lit only a small fire that burned itself out. University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary
Laboratory tried a mirrored system shaped like flower petals, but it failed to produce either smoke or flames. Historical text describes Archimedes defeating a Roman fleet using the ray. In the words of 12th century Byzantine chronicler John Zonaras in "Epitome ton Istorion," “At last in an incredible manner he burned up the whole Roman fleet. For by tilting a kind of mirror toward the sun he concentrated the sun's beam upon it; and owing to the thickness and smoothness of the mirror he ignited the air from this beam and kindled a great flame, the whole of which he directed upon the ships that lay at anchor in the path of the fire, until he consumed them all." Peter Rees, executive producer of MythBusters, said the experiment showed Archimedes' death ray was most likely a myth. According to MIT professor David Wallace, the experiment showed it may be technically possible, but didn't answer whether Archimedes used it to destroy enemy ships.
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!