Audio News for November 18th to November 24th, 2007

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for November 18th to November 24th, 2007.


Ancient Synagogue Revealed in Galilee


Our first story is from Israel, where excavations in the Arbel National Park revealed the remains of an ancient synagogue from the Roman-Byzantine era. The synagogue, located in the middle of the remains of a large ancient Jewish village, overlooks the Sea of Galilee. Residential dwellings and other facilities, including a sophisticated olive oil press and two-story homes, also were uncovered at the site.

So far, the northern part of the synagogue, with two rows of benches along the walls, has been excavated. The building is constructed of basalt and chalk using elements from an earlier structure on the site.

Archaeologists differ among themselves as to which period the ancient Galilean synagogues belong. The generally accepted view is the later Roman period, second to fourth centuries AD, which was a time of cultural and political flowering of the Jews of the Galilee. Recently, some researchers have come to believe that these synagogues were built mainly during the Byzantine period, fifth and sixth centuries AD, when Christianity rose to power and, it was thought, the Jews suffered from persecution.

The excavators were surprised to find a mosaic decoration which has no parallels, either in other synagogues, nor in art in Israel in general from this period. The mosaic depicts a series of woodworkers holding various tools of their trade standing near a monumental structure.

Birthplace of Rome discovered?


Our second story comes from a deep cavern in Rome where some researchers believe ancient Romans honored Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of the city. The cavern is now buried 50 feet under the ruins of the palace of Emperor Augustus on the Palatine Hill.

The Roman legend says that Romulus and Remus, the sons of the god Mars, were abandoned by the banks of the Tiber, where they discovered by a female wolf who suckled them until they were found and reared by a shepherd. The brothers were said to have founded Rome in 753 BC. In a power struggle, Romulus killed Remus, and the city therefore was named Rome. The cave where they were said to have been found by the she-wolf was a sacred site where the priests of Lupercus, a pastoral god, celebrated ceremonies until Pope Gelasius I ended the practice in AD 494.

Irene Iacopi, the archaeologist in charge of Palatine Hill, discovered the cave while doing restoration work on the palace of Augustus, Rome’s first emperor. Scientists believe the location of the cave, at the base of a hill between the Temple of Apollo and the Church of St. Anastasia, could prove problematic for excavation because of the risk of collapse. In the past two years, experts have been probing the space with endoscopes and laser scanners. Photographs show a domed cavern decorated with extremely well preserved colored mosaics and seashells. At its center is a painted white eagle, a symbol of the Roman Empire.

Revolutionary War weapon found near modern tanker docks


Our next story comes from the United States, where Revolutionary War weaponry is turning up in the Delaware River. Maritime archaeologist J. Lee Cox, Jr. was checking the bottom of the Delaware River at a tanker-docking pier in South Philadelphia when he got a hit on the sonar. When a diver went down weeks later, a strange pointed object was found buried in the mud. Cox had found a cheval-de-frise (Shuh VAL duh frees), an iron-tipped log which was embedded in the river to run through the hulls of British warships during the 1770s. The term cheval-de-frise means "horse from Friesland," a part of the Netherlands ruled by a powerful tribe during the Dark Ages

The cheval-de-frise was in excellent condition, despite more than two centuries in the river. The yellow pine log, with its heavy iron tip, was once bolted into a wooden-framed box anchored with rocks. Poised on the river bottom with scores of other chevaux-de-frise (Shuh VO duh frees), it was a formidable defense against British ships. It was probably placed in the river in 1775, at a time when the Pennsylvania Council of Safety, under the direction of Benjamin Franklin, was overseeing the colony's defense. After the Revolution started, the chevaux-de-frise were used by Continental forces to oppose the British resupply of troops occupying Philadelphia.

The spiked logs didn't always rip open the thick wooden hulls of British ships. Nevertheless, just being hung up on one could be catastrophic. The Sunoco Company donated the cheval-de-frise to the Independence Seaport Museum, which plans to conserve it over the next year and make it the cornerstone of its growing Revolutionary War collection. The artifact will be placed in a tank of polyethylene glycol, which will permeate and preserve the wood. It will take about a year to conserve it.

Seal of Antipope discovered in Germany


Our final story is from Germany, where a rare papal seal has been discovered at an archaeological site near the town of Ploen. Popes traditionally attached metal seals, which were called bulls, to their documents to show they were genuine. Eventually the decrees themselves later came to be called papal bulls.

Made of lead, this artifact had accompanied a document issued by antipope Anacletus II, who held office from 1130 to 1138. Anacletus was accepted as Pope only by Poland and Sicily while the rest of Europe supported Pope Innocence II. The Archaeological Office of Schleswig-Holstein state declared the find sensational, since hardly any Anacletus seals still existed, but they could not explain how the bull came to be there.

An antipope is a person who makes a widely accepted claim to be the lawful Pope, in opposition to the Pope recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. Anacletus II was an Antipope who ruled in a schism against the contested election of Pope Innocent II. In 1130, Pope Honorius II lay dying and the cardinals decided that they would entrust the election to a commission of eight men, led by papal Chancellor Haimeric, who had his candidate elected as Pope Innocent II. He was consecrated on February 14, the day after Honorius' death. The other cardinals announced that Innocent had not been canonically elected and chose Anacletus.

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