Audio News for October 21st to October 27th, 2007

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for October 21st to October 27th, 2007.


Large-scale floor mosaics uncovered in Roman villa in Austria


Our first story is from Austria, where archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a large-scale Roman villa. During excavations, five rooms of a building dating back to Roman times were discovered on a three thousand five hundred square foot plot. The remains of the walls show colorful wall paintings, but according to the archaeologists, the most amazing finds were large-scale floor mosaics in three of the rooms.
The villa had been partly equipped with wall and floor heating systems. The heating vaults under the floors remained partially intact, contributing to the good condition of the mosaics.
The mosaics are unique in the region because of their size and state of preservation. The villa, located in the province of Tyrol (ti-ROHL,) near the town Lienz (LEEnz), may have been the source of legends. In the eighteenth century, local legends held that the low-ceilinged vaults were the home of dwarfs, leading to the belief of a “dwarf city.”
Researchers from Innsbruck University found references to the one thousand eight hundred-year-old, long forgotten, building in a Latin manuscript dating to the mid-eighteenth century. In that manuscript, early Tyrolean archaeologist Anton Roschmann wrote that he found Roman remains in 1746, but his findings were lost.
This part of Austria was conquered by Rome in 15 BC. While it benefited from Roman trade, the area was never attractive to Roman settlers.

First proof of canals discovered at Aswan granite quarries


Our next story is from Egypt where the first proof of canals at the granite quarries in Aswan has been discovered. New research is showing that the unfinished Obelisk Quarry at Aswan has a canal that may have connected to the Nile and allowed the large stone monuments to float to their permanent locations. It’s been suspected that ancient workers moved the massive monuments to their final destinations over waterways. Ancient artwork shows Egyptians using boats and barges to move large pieces like obelisks and statues. Canals have been discovered at the Giza pyramids and the Luxor Temple. However, this new discovery is the first at the granite quarries in Aswan.
Researchers believe the canal filled in with water during the Nile's annual floods. Workers dragged the large stone monuments onto boats at a point below the floodwater level, allowing the artifacts to float when the water level rose. The canal was probably a natural split in the quarry granite, which was then shaped by workers to make it more functional. Geologists found tool marks along the canal. The researchers used shallow seismic surveys to test for disparity in the area's topography. The team also tested the underground temperature, thinking the area of the canal depression would be cooler due to the presence of groundwater. Both techniques showed that this anomaly did exist beyond the previously excavated area.
Along with the discovery of the canal, the archaeologists turned up gridlines used in the obelisk-sculpting process as well as ancient graffiti left behind by quarry workers.
Almost all obelisks, including those at the Luxor and Karnak Temples, were carved in the Aswan area. Larger obelisks can weigh more than fifty tons and a well-known unfinished obelisk at the quarry is estimated at one thousand one hundred tons. It was the largest obelisk ever attempted, but was abandoned after cracks emerged.

Civil War ship located near Savannah, Georgia


In the United States, archaeologists have found strong evidence of the wreck of the Civil War gunboat “Water Witch” buried under more than ten feet of mud in the Vernon River south of Savannah, Georgia. Captured by Confederate sailors in 1864, the Water Witch became one of the few Civil War ships to sail under the flags of both the Confederate and Union navies.
If underwater archaeologist Gordon Watts is correct, and this IS the Water Witch, it would be just the third Civil War shipwreck to be found out of dozens known to have been sunk in Georgia waters. The other two are the ironclad CSS Georgia and the blockade-runner CSS Nashville.
Built by the U.S. Navy in 1851, the one hundred sixty foot, wooden-hulled Water Witch was a sort of hybrid of old and new seafaring technologies. Though outfitted with a steam engine and side-mounted paddle wheels, the ship also had ninety-foot masts for sailing.
During the Civil War, the Water Witch patrolled blockades off the coasts of Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina. Confederate Navy Lieutenant Thomas Pelot led the raid to capture the ship on the morning of June 3, 1864. Taken by surprise, the Union sailors put up a fight, engaging the Confederates in combat with sabers and revolvers. Pelot himself was killed.
Confederate sailors dared not take their prize back to sea, where Union battleships watched for it, and the inland waterways to the city were too shallow. The Water Witch remained in the waters near Ossabaw Sound for about six months until December, when Sherman's Union troops closed in on Savannah. Fearing the Union would reclaim the ship, Confederate sailors burned it in the water.
The Water Witch was uncovered by a happy coincidence. The Georgia Department of Transportation surveyed part of the Vernon River where a bridge is planned for a parkway expansion. The agency agreed to check a spot just two miles away where the Water Witch was believed to have burned. Using a magnetometer (mag-ni-TOM-i-ter), surveyors detected large iron objects scattered beneath the river's surface in an area two hundred feet long. Divers pushing a twenty-foot metal rod through the river mud tapped solid wood and metal underneath. This is the same location where a 1865 survey map showed Confederate sailors burned the ship to prevent recapture by Union General William T. Sherman's army.

Search resumes for lost Roman library


Our final story is from Italy, where archaeologists have resumed their search for a lost library of Greek and Latin manuscripts at Herculaneum (hur-kyuh-LEY-nee-uhm.)The scrolls, a mass collection of classic literature, were believed lost when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, burying the cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii.
Previous excavations have unearthed classical works at a building now known as the Villa of the Papyri, thought to belong to Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso. Some historians think that the papyri were being moved to safety when the eruption occurred. The scrolls, which may have included lost masterpieces by Aristotle, Euripides (yoo-RIP-i-deez) and Sophocles (SOF-uh-kleez), would have been scattered throughout the thirty thousand square foot villa by the one hundred mile per hour pyroclastic (pahy-ruh-KLAS-tik )flow of ash, gas, and mud.
Engineers digging a well shaft found the villa in the eighteenth century. Tunnels bored into the rock brought to light spectacular ancient sculptures and one thousand eight hundred burnt papyrus scrolls.
Discoveries ten years ago include two floors of the villa, as well as the remains of nearby gardens, ornamental ponds, and a bathhouse. The excavation halted in 1998. Funds ran out and archaeologists protested at the use of mechanical diggers by a private builder to crash through the rock. The site opened to the public four years ago, but has closed again so that archaeologists can dig out the frescoed corridor on the lower ground floor and protect mosaics and frescoes found on the top floor from damp and erosion.
According to Professor Wallace-Hadrill, next year’s work would begin with excavating the basilica, the great hall housing Herculaneum’s legal and administrative center. An important goal of the work is the discovery of more papyrus documents. Those recovered thus far have been read with high-tech imaging techniques. Until recently, ramshackle modern housing covered the area. Years ago, the villa captured the imagination of the American billionaire J. Paul Getty. The Getty Villa at Malibu, California is a replica of the Villa of the Papyri.

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