Audio News for September 9th to September 15th, 2007.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for September 9th to September 15th, 2007.
Albania launches first survey of sunken fleets
Our first story is from Albania, where underwater survey to map ancient shipwrecks is turning up a fleet of evidence. One example is a 2,400-year-old Greek pottery amphora, caked with tiny shells. That’s part of a sunken shipment of some 60 ceramic vessels, the top find so far from what organizers say is the first archaeological survey of this small Balkan nation's seabed. The survey was launched in July and lasted all month, under funding from Albania and a U.S. foundation. The findings are the first step toward compiling an underwater cultural heritage map that could someday plot the position of sunken fleets from ancient and mediaeval times down to the present. Dozens of ancient wrecks are thought to lie along Albania's 220 miles of coastline. According to Auron Tare (OUR-on TAH-reh), the project's local coordinator, Albanian authorities were hoping to sign an agreement with the non-profit RPM Nautical Foundation late this year for additional funding for a five-year long survey program. This would begin a type of archaeological research that has never been done in Albania. Archaeologist Adrian Anastasi (AH-dree-an ah-nas-TAZ-ee), Albania’s only specialist in underwater archaeology, said the survey could lead to a museum of underwater archaeology and increased tourism and would immediately provide increased information to help protect the country's marine cultural heritage from looters. The problem of looting has increased since the end of Albania’s Communist regime in 1990. Stretching along the east coast of the Adriatic, Albania links the Balkans and eastern regions to Western Europe. The Adriatic coast was a busy area for shipping during ancient and mediaeval times. This summer’s find of a light-brown clay amphora, probably used to store wine or oil, came to light on the last day of the survey off the ancient town of Butrinti (boo-TREEN-tee). It is believed to date from the 4th century B.C., the time of the philosopher Plato. According to Jeffrey G. Royal, archaeological director of RPM, the survey data suggests a high probability that the amphora is from a deep-lying shipwreck from that period. If so, it would be the first 4th century B.C. shipwreck found in Albanian waters. Survey organizers are keeping the find's precise location and depth secret for fear of looting. Only a handful of wrecks from that period have been excavated in the Mediterranean. After assessing the survey data, efforts will be made to investigate the wreck to learn more about the ship's destination and design. The amphora will stay immersed in water at the museum in Durres. Museum workers will gradually reduce the water's salinity over the next year, to remove salt from the amphora as a start to its conservation. The survey also located 14 shipwrecks from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Viking longboat burials exhumed for study of bones
In Norway, archaeologists opened a Viking queen’s burial mound to learn more about a second woman laid to rest with her 1,200 years ago. Some believe the second woman was a servant killed to be the queen’s handmaiden on her journey into the afterlife. Alternatively, the two women in the grass-covered Oseberg mound in south Norway may be a royal mother and daughter who died of the same disease and were buried together in AD 834. According to Egil Mikkelsen, director of Oslo's Museum of Cultural History, DNA tests will be conducted to find the answer. The women and the longboat they were interred in, 70 feet long and with its oak prow still intact, were unearthed in 1904 from their 15 foot high mound, which by then was surrounded by cornfields. The longboat, known as the Oseberg ship, was placed in a museum in Oslo, but the bones were reburied in 1948. The aluminum coffin containing the women’s bones was relatively quickly removed from the mound for the new research to begin. Mikkelsen believes that even though the women’s identity is unknown, DNA tests can tell if they were related and could prove if they were mother and daughter. If the two women had widely differing DNA, it would support the hypothesis that the second woman was a servant. New chemical analysis of bones can also tell what people ate. In Viking times, meat, such as elk, were prized while poorer people ate fish. Such studies of these women’s bones would not only add to knowledge of their era’s health and subsistence, but could also suggest whether they were from the same social class. A royal queen and her daughter would have eaten the same quality and kinds of food, but a servant’s diet would have been quite different. The analysis is expected to last a year. The archaeologists placed a 2007 Norwegian coin that bears a picture of the prow of the Oseberg ship in the sarcophagus, to show any future generations when the grave had been disturbed.
Archaeologists find ancient escape route from sack of second Temple
In Israel, archaeologists have unearthed the subterranean drainage channel Jews used to escape from Roman conquerors during the sacking of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. According to archaeology Professor Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa, the tunnel was dug beneath what would become the main road of Jerusalem in the days of the second biblical Temple, which the Romans destroyed in the year AD 70. The channel was buried beneath the rubble from the sacking of the temple, and the parts exposed since its discovery have been preserved intact. The walls are made of ashlar stonework 3 feet deep, reaching a height of 10 feet in some places. Portions of the original plastering remain. Pottery shards and coins from the end of the Second Temple period were found inside the passageway, indicating its age. The discovery of the drainage channel, significant in itself, is a sign of how the city's leaders looked out for the welfare of their citizens by organizing a system that drained the rainfall and prevented flooding. However, what makes the channel particularly important is its role as an escape route for Jews desperate to flee the conquering Romans. Historian Flavius Josephus (FLAY-vee-us jo-SEE-fus) indicated in "The War of the Jews" that numerous people took refuge in the channel and lived inside until they fled the city through its southern end. Tens of thousands of people lived in Jerusalem at the time, but it is not clear how many used the channel as an escape hatch. The Second Temple was the center of Jewish worship during the second Jewish Commonwealth, which spanned the six centuries preceding the Roman conquest of Jerusalem. Its expansion was the most famous construction project of Herod, the Jewish client king of the Holy Land under imperial Roman occupation from 37 BC. About 100 yards of the canal have been uncovered so far. Archeologists believe the tunnel leads to the Kidron River, which empties into the Dead Sea.
British Columbian coast yields artifacts over 10,000 years old
Our final story is from Canada, where a graduate student discovered a cave with a history reaching back thousands of years. Jenny Storey was working on an archaeological survey of Huxley Island, off British Columbia, when she found the cave under the roots of a blown-down tree. Upon entering the cave, she found an ancient stone knife blade lying on top of bare rock. According to Daryl Fedje, coastal archaeologist for Parks Canada, a drip of water coming down from the cave roof had washed away the dirt and exposed the knife blade. Fedje is the leader of a team working on a project to uncover evidence that people inhabited the area more than 14,000 years ago. The downed tree was in a previously surveyed area. After exploring the new cave, the team found another discovery upon their exit, a spear point sitting on the surface. Spear points, knife blades, and stone flakes found earlier in two Haida Gwaii caves, one on Moresby Island and the Gaadu Din cave on Huxley Island, are dated to between 11,400 and 13,000 years old. Fedje believes radiocarbon dating will show the newly found knife blade and spear point to be around 12,000 years old. It is not known if the spear point is similar in style to those found previously. The oldest clear evidence for archeological remains on the islands is 13,000 years old based on material obtained from the two caves, including bones and teeth of ancient grizzly bears, fox, deer and dogs, which all became extinct on the Islands over 9,000 years ago due to rising sea levels and higher temperatures. Fedje believes sea levels were 300 feet lower 13,000 years ago and that an area off Huxley Island was once a lake. He and other Parks Canada archaeologists are presently doing underwater surveys to get detailed imagery of the ocean floor. Next year they plan to begin underwater excavations.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!