Audio News for October 7th to October 13th, 2007

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for October 7th to October 13th, 2007.


New records refute the charge of medieval Templar heresy


For our lead story we go to the Vatican, where the discovery of a crucial medieval document about the Knights Templar (temp-lahr) will challenge their 700-year-old conviction for heresy. The document is included in a comprehensive collection of the records of the trials against the Templars, which the Vatican will publish on October 25. Now available for the first time, these detailed records will debunk many myths about the Templars (temp-lahrs). The Knights Templar were a medieval Christian military order founded in AD 1119 to protect pilgrims to the Holy Land. They were disbanded by the Pope in AD 1312 after trials for heresy and sexual misconduct. The official five-year inquisition included scandalous confessions extracted under torture, burnings at the stake, and seizure of the order’s great wealth. The records of the trials stayed in the Vatican’s Secret Archives for 700 years. In fact, the key document was only recently rediscovered by Professor Barbara Frale, a medievalist at the archives. This document is part of a huge volume called “Processus Contra Templarios (pro-SESS-us CON-tra tem-PLAHR-ee-ose): Papal Inquiry into the Trial of the Templars.” Professor Frale called it a milestone for scholars, because it is the first time these documents have been released for study, and they carry the Vatican stamp of authority. The collection also carries a hefty price tag of 5,900 euros, over eight thousand U.S. dollars. Only 799 numbered copies were made. The package includes scholarly commentary, exact reproductions of the original parchments in Latin, and even replicas of the wax seals used by the 14th-century inquisitors who ran the trials. The full name of the Templars was “Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon.” Crusader knights founded the order to protect and serve pilgrims flocking to the Holy Land after the capture of Jerusalem in 1099. The Knights of the Temple, or templars, built rest stations and hospitals as part of their service, and amassed enormous wealth. Legends of their hidden treasures, secret rituals and power have figured over the years in popular films and novels such as "The Da Vinci Code." The Knights were also reputedly guardians of the Holy Grail, the legendary cup used by Christ at the Last Supper before his crucifixion. After Muslims re-conquered the Holy Land in the late 1200’s, the Templars went into decline. King Philip IV of France became their foremost persecutor, even though he had financed his many wars with huge loans from the order’s wealth. Among Philip’s charges were allegations that the Templars worshipped idols, spat on the cross as part of their initiation, and practiced sodomy. Most historians believe the Templars confessed only because of torture. Eliminating the Templars was also a convenient way for Philip to cancel his debts. The most titillating document in the collection is the so-called Chinon (shee-NOHN) Parchment, which Professor Frale discovered in the archives in 2001. It had been catalogued incorrectly at some point in the past, she said. Frale was stunned to find the document so many historians were looking for. It shows that while Pope Clement V found the Templars guilty of grave sins of violence and misconduct within their order, he was convinced they were not heretics. Despite that, in AD 1312 he ordered the Templars disbanded for the good of the Church. Clement had repeatedly clashed with the French king over the conduct of the trials. Frale’s discovery of the Chinon (shee-NOHN) document will lead to reappraisal of that feud. Publication of the full records will also deflate legends still popular after 700 years.

Alaska shipwreck delivers story of disaster and success


In our next story, we go to Alaska, where divers working off the Kenai Peninsula have found the oldest American shipwreck in Alaska. The Torrent, a huge, square-rigged sailing vessel, struck a reef and sank near Port Graham in 1868, the year after the U.S. bought Alaska from Russia. Aboard the vessel were women, children and 130 U.S. soldiers, who came there to build the first U.S. fort on the Alaskan mainland. Before they identified a suitable building site, however, their vessel struck a reef near Dangerous Cape, partly due to the absence on deck of the captain, who had been drinking. The castaway crew and passengers had to camp on a beach for 18 days awaiting rescue, while the 576-ton bark broke up and sank. Unseen for 139 years, it was relocated this July by a four divers in an archaeological survey authorized by the state. Team leader Steve Lloyd, a local shipwreck historian and veteran of other shipwreck searches, said it was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle one piece at a time over the course of many dives. The team held back their announcement until the state could take steps to preserve and protect the shipwreck. Dave McMahan, an archaeologist in the state Office of History and Archaeology, called it an extraordinary wreck, an important part of Alaska’s history, which could become a great exhibit for a maritime museum. After a two-year search, Lloyd’s magnetometer picked up the biggest clue, the Torrent’s giant iron anchor. It measured 10 feet tall with a stem 2 and a half feet around and pointed flukes 9 feet across. The divers found a 200-foot-long debris field containing dozens of bricks used for ballast, deteriorated pieces of the wooden hull and the rudder, well-preserved objects of brass, copper and bronze, such as portholes, a toilet, and pieces of two cannons, including a mountain howitzer, a short-barreled, large-caliber cannon used in the Civil War. The end of the story for the shipwrecked passengers of the Torrent went as well as could be expected. The Native Alaskans on the Peninsula came to their aid, sharing some of their fish. Then a sister ship showed up, transporting them back to the former Russian fort on Kodiak Island. Spending the winter there, the soldiers built a school for local children out of lumber that had been intended for the fort. The next spring, they sailed on a different ship to the mouth of the Kenai River and built Fort Kenay there in 1869.

Records of Australian Aborigine houses tear down myth of nomadism


Our third story focuses on Australia, where 35 years of historical research has been compiled to debunk the myth that Aborigines were roaming nomads. Research by Paul Memmot, an anthropologist and architect at the University of Queensland, shows that Australia's indigenous peoples lived in houses and villages, and used surprisingly sophisticated architecture and design methods to build their shelters. Dwellings were constructed in various styles, depending on the climate. Most common were dome-like structures made of cane reeds with roofs thatched with palm leaves. Some of the houses were interconnected, allowing native people to interact during long periods spent indoors during the wet season. Memmot combed through oral histories, explorers' diaries, paintings and photographs to compile this first book ever on Australian Aboriginal architecture. It discredits the commonly held view that Aborigines were completely nomadic before the arrival of Europeans 200 years ago. The belief was part of the argument used by white settlers to claim that Australia was terra nullius (TER-ra NOOL-ee-us), the Latin term for land that belonged to nobody. Memmot thinks the myth that indigenous Australians were constantly on the move came about because early explorers made their observations in good weather, when they saw indigenous people traveling about more than at other times. In the rainforest area around Cairns, in Queensland, where there is heavy rain for much of the year, people would stay in villages for up to a year. Villages were near a staple food source, such as rainforest trees that produced nuts. Since some of the nuts were poisonous, the Aborigines leached the poisons out of them by burying them in mud for a period of time. This gave them control over a local source of nutrition, so they could stay put instead of having to go hunting. On the west coast of Tasmania, dome housing had triple layers of cladding and insulation. In western Victoria, circular stone walls were built more than a meter high and then topped with dome roofs that had earth or sod cladding. Missionaries drew on Aboriginal technology for buildings, using tree bark for roofs and walls, and grass thatching for gables, as well as reeds and animal hides. Very little indigenous architecture in Australia remains, however. Authorities burned or bulldozed the structures in the belief they were health hazards. Memmot hopes that continuing research in the area will not only clear up the historical record but also help architectural designers working on current housing problems.

World’s most ancient wall painting is strikingly modern in style


We end our news journey in Syria, where French archaeologists have discovered an 11,000-year-old wall painting that they believe is the oldest in the world. The complex geometric painting, which measures about six feet by six feet, was found at the Neolithic settlement of Djade al-Mughara (DJAH-deh al-MOOKH-ha-ra) on the Euphrates, northeast of the city of Aleppo, in the northern part of Syria. Team leader Eric Coqueugniot (COH-kun-yoh), from France's National Center for Scientific Research, compared it to modernist work by twentieth-century artists like Paul Klee (CLAY). Red, white and black rectangles dominate the painting. Coqueugniot (COH-kun-yoh) said that another painting was found next to this one, but the painstaking work of excavation won’t begin on it until next year. The world’s oldest wall painting is on the adobe wall of a large circular house with a wooden roof. Coqueugniot (COH-kun-yoh) believes there was a purpose in having the painting in what looks like a communal house, but that purpose is still unknown. The village was later abandoned and the house filled with mud. Carbon dating has established the date of the painting as around 9,000 BC. Its red paint was made from burnt hematite rock, the white from crushed limestone, and charcoal provided the black. The site of Djade al-Mughara (DJAH-deh al-MOOKH-ha-ra) has been excavated since the early 1990’s. The inhabitants lived off hunting and wild plants. They resembled modern day humans in looks but were not farmers, according to Coqueugniot. Many flints and weapons have been found, as well as human skeletons buried under houses. The site is one of several villages from that period in Syria and southern Turkey, which are thought to have been in peaceful communication with each other. The world's previously oldest-known painting on a constructed wall was found in Turkey, but it is dated 1,500 years after the one at Djade al-Mughara (DJAH-deh al-MOOKH-ha-ra), according to Science magazine. Mustafa Ali, a leading Syrian artist, said geometric design similar to that of the ancient painting is seen in many kinds of art from throughout the region, including Persia, and can still be seen in carpets and kilims (kie-lims), the well-known rugs. While the painting is extremely ancient, therefore, its modern connections are clear. The painting will be moved to Aleppo's museum next year.

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