Audio News for May 11th to May 17th, 2008

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for May 11th to May 17th, 2008.


Carved marble ritual platter yields new knowledge on Bulgarian baths


Our first story is from Bulgaria, where a exceptional Roman ritual plate came to light during excavations in Bulgaria's spa resort of Hissar (hih-SAHR).  Dating from the middle of the 3rd century AD, the plate was discovered in one of the rooms of the ancient Roman thermal baths.  The artifact is providing new information about the late classical bath complex in the ancient Roman town of Diocletianopolis, known today as Hissar.  The marble plate, measuring approximately 20 inches by 20 inches, shows three nymphs, who were guardians of the mineral springs.  Water has damaged the heads of the nymphs, but as a whole, the plate is very well preserved.  According to Mitko Madzharov, the Director of the Hissar Archaeological Museum, the work of the ancient artist was precise and well defined.  The plate contains inscriptions in Greek.  It is believed it was made by a Roman aristocrat as a sign of gratitude for his healing.  It is also providing new information about the origin of the thermal baths complex, which was previously thought to have been built in the Fourth Century.   Now the archaeologists are dating it to the Third Century.  The town of Hissar, which is in the central southern part of modern Bulgaria, has an ancient history, going back six thousand years.  Romans turned the Thracian village into a town and named it Diocletianopolis after Emperor Diocletian, who during his rule between AD 285 and 304, stopped there for the benefits of the mineral baths.

Satellite imagery will build climate and culture map of Zapotecs of ancient Mexico


Satellite imagery obtained from NASA will help archaeologist Bill Middleton gaze into the ancient Mexican past.  In a unusual application, multi-spectral and hyperspectral data will help build the most accurate, detailed landscape map of the southern state of Oaxaca, where the Zapotec people formed the first state-level and urban society in Mexico.  According to Middleton, the acting chair of the Department of Material Culture Sciences and professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Rochester Institute of Technology, if you ask someone off the street about Mexican archaeology, they'll say Aztec or Maya.  Sometimes they'll also say Inca, which is the wrong continent, but you'll almost never hear anyone talk about the Zapotecs.  Zapotecs had the first writing system, the first state society, and the first cities.  They controlled a large territory at their zenith from 250 BC to AD 750.  The new study will explore how the Oaxacan economy and environment changed as the Zapotec state grew and then collapsed into smaller city-states.  Middleton will build a picture of how climate and vegetation patterns have changed over time.  The focus will be on two sites in the Chichicapam Valley located between two of the major arms of the central valleys of Oaxaca.  Imagery from Earth Observing 1 and Landsat satellites obtained over three years will help Middleton identify the natural resources found at archaeological sites.  The technology works by differentiating materials on the ground based on reflected light.  Objects that look the same in visible light may have very different reflective properties when sampled across the spectrum.  Satellite imagery covering more than 30,000 square kilometers will help Middleton identify different plant species, environments and ecosystems, and acres of arable land or mineral resources surrounding particular sites.  Another facet of the NASA-funded project will focus on environmental change.  This part of the study, done in conjunction with colleagues at the University of Colorado at Boulder, will analyze plant microfossils in sediment samples collected from a variety of locations, including areas where streams expose sediment layers 10,000 years old.

First large-scale survey of western Sahara begins


In the Western Sahara, just south of Morocco, Basque and Sahrawi archaeologists are making the first catalogue of the prehistoric heritage of the region.  The field focus of the Basque-Sahrawi expedition is researching the past of the most inhospitable place on the planet in the area of Tiris, a vast desert area south of Western Sahara.  Team leader Andoni Sáenz de Buruaga, a professor at the Basque public university UPV, is making his fifth trip to the research area, which covers an area of 30,000 square kilometers.  These lands are in the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, part of the Western Sahara not under the control of Morocco, which controls 75 percent of the former Spanish colony.  In five years' work, the Basque archaeologists have catalogued more than 300 archaeological sites, including former human settlements, carvings and cave paintings.  Most are from 3,000 to 10,000 years old.  The gathered material will be part of the first archaeological catalogue of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.  According to Sáenz de Buruaga, it is very important for the Sahrawis to know their cultural heritage, which contrary to previous opinion is very rich.  One of the most remarkable findings is that today's arid desert was a subtropical savanna with plenty of flora and fauna six thousand years ago.  Rains decreased because of a process of climate change, and animals moved to other places because of the lack of water.  The Basque archaeologists cooperate with their Sahrawi colleagues in these expeditions.  This one includes three Basque and three Sahrawi archaeologists.

Underwater survey recovers bust of Julius Caesar from Rhone River


Finally we turn to France, where divers trained in archaeology discovered a marble bust of an aging Julius Caesar.  The marble sculpture, found in the Rhône River, authenticated as a realistic likeness of a wrinkled, balding man in his fifties, was probably modeled in real life.  According to Luc Long, the Ministry of Culture archaeologist, it is the only known bust of the living Caesar, except for the Mask of Turin, made just before or after his death.  Dating between 49 and 46 BC, the bust, which has a broken nose, is from the period when Caesar founded the Roman colony of Arles.  Caesar used Arles as a base for his campaign against Pompey, his rival.  Long speculated that the bust might have been thrown into the river just after Brutus and fellow conspirators assassinated Caesar in 44 BC.  Researchers have agreed that the life-sized head matches the known official portrait of Caesar, which was featured on coins struck in his lifetime.  The bust is very well preserved and very realistic-- not at all prettied up.  Caesar’s features are hard and show the sags and wrinkles of his age.  It is much more human than the conventional statues showing him with laurel crowns.  Other items found by the underwater team were a nearly six-foot tall marble statue of the god Neptune dating from the beginning of the Third Century AD, and smaller bronzes, one of which shows a Greek satyr with its hands tied behind its back.

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