Audio News for July 30th to August 5th, 2006

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news July 30th to August 5th, 2006.

Politics coincides with temple construction in new Hawaiian theory


Our first story is from the Hawaiian Islands, where a new study of an ancient temple system on the island of Maui suggests that the structure is about 400 years older than previously thought. The findings contradict prior theories that the temples were built over a few decades around 1600.  Some researchers now think the temples were built over the course of 500 years, with construction cycles peaking during periods of significant political change.  According to the study’s Principal Investigator, anthropology professor Michael Kolb, evidence indicates that construction phases parallel shifts in political control.  Kolb adds that chiefs likely initiated construction to mark their territory.  Whenever a new leader came into power, he would probably seek to validate his new political and ideological ideas through modification or expansion of the temple system.  Radiocarbon dating of charcoal from beneath the building foundations formed the basis of the new research.  Usually, archaeologists rely on dating of ceramics, but ceramics did not exist in early Hawaiian history.  The charcoal dating determined that the Pihana temple is the oldest temple.  According to the new data, the existing ruins date to 1214.  One of the island's best-known temples is Pi'ilanihale Heiau.  It is Maui's largest temple, covering more area than a football field and standing 36 feet in height. This temple has been dated to 1294.  Researchers believe this early 13th century building phase was followed by periods of construction in the 14th century and again near the turn of the 17th century.  The most elaborate temples featured altars, oracle towers, offering pits, palisades, drum houses, and god or ancestral images carved from wood or stone.  The first westerners arrived with British explorer Captain James Cook in 1778. When Christianity was introduced to the islands in 1820, most of the temples were destroyed or abandoned. Maui has some of the best remains, with more than 120 remaining sites.

X-ray technology reveals Archimedes’ lost texts

Original Headline:  X-rays reveal Archimedes secrets


In the United States, X-ray technology is revealing information about a series of hidden texts written by the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes.  Until now, the pages have remained obscured by paintings and other text put down on top of the original writings.  Using a non-destructive technique known as X-ray fluorescence, researchers are able to peer through these later additions to read the underlying text.  The goatskin parchment records key details of Archimedes' work, which are considered the foundation of modern mathematics.  The writings include the only Greek version of “On Floating Bodies” known to exist, and the only surviving ancient copies of “The Method of Mechanical Theorems” and the “Stomachion.”  In the essays, the 3rd Century BC mathematician develops numerical descriptions of the real world.  An anonymous scribe transcribed the original texts in the 10th Century onto parchment.  Three centuries later a monk in Jerusalem called Johannes Myronas recycled the manuscript to create a palimpsest.  Palimpsesting involves scraping away the original text so the parchments can be used again.  To create a book, the monk cut the pages in half and turned them sideways.  The monk Myronas also used recycled pages from works by the 4th Century Orator Hyperides and other philosophical texts to create the same book.  Will Noel, curator of manuscripts and rare books at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, and project director stated that it’s completely unheard of to get three unique palimpsest texts from the ancient world together in one book.  The monks filled the recycled pages with Greek Orthodox prayers.  Later, forgers in the 20th Century added gold paintings of religious imagery to try to boost the value of the set.  The result was the near total obliteration of the original texts except for faint traces of the ink used by the 10th Century scribe.  The researchers turned to a technique known as X-ray fluorescence to tease out the final details of the writings.  The X-rays are formed in a synchrotron - a particle accelerator at Stanford University’s Linear Accelerator Center that uses electrons traveling at close to the speed of light covering a wide range of the electromagnetic spectrum.  The light enables scientists to look inside matter at the molecular and atomic scale.  The technique is particularly useful for probing the palimpsest because the ink used by the scribe to record Archimedes' work contains iron, causing the words to glow.  The glowing words are displayed on a computer screen, giving the researchers the first glimpse of the text in nearly 800 years.

Theseus Ring deemed authentic!


In Greece, archaeologists have confirmed the 15th century BC date of the long-lost ‘Theseus Ring,’ a gold ring found in the Plaka district of Athens in the 1950s and generally dismissed as a fake.  There was a huge debate about its authenticity until a panel of experts from the Culture Ministry declared the piece to be genuine.  The ring, which depicts a bull leaping as well as a lion and a tree, is believed to come from the area of Anafiotika in the Athenian city center known as the Plaka.  According to ancient Greek mythology, Prince Theseus was the son of King Aegeus of Athens. During this period, the Minoans under the leadership of King Minos, who lived on the island of Crete, had a very strong navy and often attacked various Greek cities, including Athens.  King Aegeus had an agreement with King Minos that if Minos would leave Athens in peace, Aegeus would send seven Athenian boys and seven Athenian girls to Crete every nine years to be eaten by the Minotaur.   Determined to slay the monster, Theseus joined the children on the next voyage. King Aegeus made Theseus promise to change the sails on the boat from black to white if he managed to come home alive.  After killing the Minotaur and sailing back towards Athens near Sounion, Theseus had forgotten to change the sail from black to white. When King Aegeus saw the black sail he thought Theseus was dead and jumped off a cliff, killing himself.

Declassified spy imagery reveals ancient settlements in modern Syria


Our final story is from Australia, where researchers studying declassified spy satellite images have found widespread remains of ancient human settlements in modern Syria dating back 130,000 years.  United States military surveillance satellites took the photographs in the late 1960s and they were declassified in the late 1990s.  In April and June of this year, the team of researchers traveled to the Euphrates River Valley and searched sites they had painstakingly identified using the images.  According to group leader Mandy Mottram, PhD student at the Australian National University's School of Archaeology and Anthropology, the evidence of human life found in the area included a hilltop Byzantine basilica, a fortified town dating to the Early Bronze Age, Early Islamic ceramic factories and a hilltop complex of megalithic tombs.  The images are particularly valuable because they show the landscape prior to its present rapid agricultural development.  Some of the artifacts found could dramatically change the way historians think of the area's early inhabitants.  Contrary to a popular belief that rural civilizations were experiencing economic and social decline from the mid-6th century, the team found evidence of widespread prosperity among many settlements and large quantities of pottery.  The researchers want to establish the first complete record of human occupation in the area, beginning with the arrival from Africa of early human groups up to one million years ago.  They have already found tools from the Middle Paleolithic period that are between 130,000 and 40,000 years old that had been made by either Neanderthals or early modern humans, as well as a few Acheulian tools that date back several hundred thousand years.  Ms Mottram said the group was still analyzing images of the items and structures they found and hoped to return to Syria next April if they secured funding.

That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!
Audio News Script, 6 August 2006