Audio News for May 28th to June 3rd, 2006

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for May 28th to June 3rd, 2006.

Modern technology may reveal ancient text’s secrets

Original Headline: Ancient scroll may yield religious secrets


Our first story is from Greece where a compilation of charred papyrus scraps, kept in a museum's storerooms, may hold a key to understanding early monotheistic beliefs.  Archaeologists say the pieces are all that remains of Europe's oldest surviving book.  The Derveni papyrus was found in a 2,400-year-old nobleman's grave in northern Greece over 40 years ago and researchers say they are close to uncovering new text from the burnt sections through high-tech digital analysis.  Large sections of the 4th century BC book were read years ago, but never officially published.  The entire manuscript is a philosophical dissertation on ancient religion.  By using the imaging and scanning techniques used to decipher the similarly fragmented Judas Gospel, archaeologist Polyxeni Veleni believes the Derveni text will be considerably clarified.  Veleni, director of the Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum, believes some 10-20 percent of new text will be added.  The scroll dates to around 340 BC, during the reign of Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great.  Greek philosophy expert Apostolos Pierris believes the text may be a century older and probably written by somebody from the circle of the philosopher Anaxagoras.  Anaxagoras, who lived in ancient Athens, is thought to have been the teacher of Socrates and was accused by his contemporaries of atheism.  Last month, experts from Brigham Young University in Utah used multi-spectral digital analysis to create enhanced pictures of the text, which will be studied at Oxford University and published by the end of 2007.  The scroll contains an essay on a lost poem describing the birth of the gods and other beliefs focusing on Orpheus, the mythical musician who visited the underworld to reclaim his dead love and enjoyed a strong cult following in the ancient world.  The Orpheus cult raised the idea of a single creator god, as opposed to the assembly of deities the ancient Greeks believed in, and influenced later monotheistic faiths.

Youngest pirate found off the coast of Massachusetts, USA

Original Headline:  A Pirate's Life for Him -- at Age 9


Underwater archeologists off the coast of Massachusetts in the United States have identified the partial remains of the youngest known pirate to sail U.S. waters.  The remains recovered from the18th century wreck are identified as those of John King, a 9 year old who joined Capt. Black Sam Bellamy and his crew on the infamous Whydah.  According to historian Ken Kinkor of the Expedition Whydah Sea-Lab & Learning Center in Provincetown, teenage pirates were quite common during the early 18th century, but this is the youngest one he has ever come across.  The young pirate's life on the Whydah did not last long. The ship sunk in a storm off Cape Cod three months after he joined. It went down with all but eight of its 180-man crew. Six of the eight survivors were tried and hanged in Boston. The other two escaped punishment, thanks to the efforts of famed lawyer Cotton Mather.  The tale of the pirate, identified as John King, was then lost to history until explorer Barry Clifford used court documents and an early salvage map to locate the Whydah in 1984.  For 20 years, Clifford and his crew of divers have recovered more than 100,000 artifacts from the wreck, bringing them to the surface, conserving them, and putting them on display at their museum.  Clifford stated the Whydah held an unusually broad variety of artifacts stolen from other ships. One discovery was a small shoe, a silk stocking and a lower leg bone. The items had been in storage for nearly 20 years before the connection was made to young John King.  John King's disconnected story is found in a deposition filed with the governor of Antigua on Nov. 30, 1716, by Abijah Savage, commander of the Antiguan sloop Bonetta. As was the usual practice, Savage reported to the governor the details of a pirate attack on his ship.  On Nov. 9, the Bonetta was attacked by Bellamy's ship and held for 15 days.  Savage wrote that John King, who was sailing with his mother as a passenger, went willing with the pirates, even threatening his Mother if he were restrained.  Motivated by this account, Clifford showed the short fibula to expedition archeologist John de Bry and Smithsonian Institution expert David Hunt. Both agreed that the fibula belonged to a child age 8 to 11.  The shoe and fibula were found nearby a large concretion of artifacts that is now on display at the museum. Such concretions occur when iron objects electrolyze in seawater, catalyzing the formation of stone-like materials that bind artifacts together.  X-rays of the concretion show that it has many other bones, a possible skull and hundreds of other artifacts buried deep inside. Eventually they may drill into it and use fiber optics to determine if the other bones represent the rest of the boy's skeleton.

Bacchus mosaic Italy’s earliest “Magic Eye” depiction

Original Headline:  Newly found mosaic is optical illusion


In Italy, archaeologists studying an ancient mosaic found by construction workers are astonished to discover that it is an optical illusion.  When viewed one way it is a bald old man with a beard, but turned the other way round it is a beardless youth.  According to Roberto Cereghino, a government archaeological official, it appeared to be a depiction of Bacchus and nevertheless a very beautiful piece of work and of immense significance.  Objects that were used in Bacchanalian rites surround the double face: an ancient musical instrument, the sistrum, a two-handed drinking bowl, and a priestly wand. The mosaic's optical deception may be linked to the fact that Bacchus was the god of wine.  Mosaics containing optical illusions have been found in North Africa, but this is thought to be the first discovery of such a work in Italy.  The double head was unearthed last month in an industrial area near the town of Pomezia that was previously thought to have been thoroughly explored for archaeological remains.  The mosaic has since been removed from the site for restoration, and there are plans to put it on display in Rome later this year.

2,500 year-old bison kill site discovered in Canada

Original Headline: Killing ground


Our final story is from Canada where archaeologists are turning up evidence of a 2,5000 year-old slaughter in a southeastern Alberta valley.  What was once little more than grazing land is now a archeological dig that is teaching University of Lethbridge researchers what one of Alberta's few known bison kill sites can tell us about our past.  According to archeology professor Shawn Bubel, the hunters followed the bison into this valley, scattered around surrounding dunes, and ambushed the animals. Having slaughter about 10, maybe 15, the hunters cut them open and took what they needed.  With what they could carry, they continued on to their camp, probably about three to four miles away.  Over the past three years, researchers have spent a total of five months excavating the site. They believe they are far from getting the complete picture.  Professionals first discovered the bone bed located about 130 miles southeast of Calgary, in 2003, when Bubel learned that a local man was desecrating the area.  The first dig began in May 2004.  Radio carbon dating determined the artifacts were 2,500 years old.  In May of this year a University of Lethbridge crew returned and have spent the past month sifting through two areas, each smaller than the previous dig.  Students are uncovering leg bones, ankles, tails, vertebrae, toes, intact jaws and teeth of bison young and old.  They are also finding the weapons used to kill them, plus fire-broken rock used to boil water.  The team will keep digging down until the soil meets clay.  So far, the researchers have found nearly 7,000 clues left behind by the hunters.  Bubel states that less than 5% of the site has been studied.   Graduate student Rena Varsakis's job is to study the spears, darts and arrows used to slay the animals.  She has determined that 85% of the projectile points are fashioned from Knife River flint, a glassy quartz material that originates in what is now North and South Dakota.  Bubel estimates it will be at least four years before the entire collection will reach its final destination at the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton.  If another permit is granted, the dig will resume next May.

That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!