Audio News for July 13th to July 19th, 2008

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news July 13th to July 19th, 2008.


Horse race track discovered in ancient Olympia


Our first story is from Greece, where the site of the ancient hippodrome racecourse where the emperor Nero competed for Olympian laurels nearly 2000 years ago, has been discovered.   

Before the discovery in Olympia, the hippodrome had only been known from written sources.  Archaeologists had failed to locate its actual site.   Pausanias, Greek traveler and geographer of the 2nd century AD, described the course in great detail from its starting gates to its temple.   A previously unheeded written source from the 11th century AD goes so far as to state the size and dimensions of the enclosure.  The complex had a length of more than 1000 yards and a width of 64 yards, not including the earth walls built for spectators.  The starting-gates stretched the full width of the racecourse.   

To date, it has been assumed that nothing of the hippodrome had survived, since the area east of the sanctuary of Olympia has been flooded by the Alfeios River since ancient times and has become covered with silt.   Using modern geophysical methods, researchers systematically searched the area for the first time.   Prominent structures were discovered measuring almost 1200 yards in length.  Scientists believe this to be the racecourse that ran parallel to the stadium.  

Structural remains identified as the temple of Demeter, known to have been situated near the hippodrome, were discovered in the northern part of the area.   At the halfway point of the northern access to the starting-gates, there is a circular collection with a diameter of about 10 yards, clearly marked in the ancient soil layer.  This could be the remains of the sacred structure described by the ancient writer.  

The actual starting-gates, with boxes for up to 24 teams of horses, are most probably located under a gigantic pile of earth built up from excavations by the archaeologists investigating the temple area since 1875.   Intensive agricultural use has severely changed the historical geography, and, the course of the Alfeios River has changed several times over the centuries.  The landscape in this area has changed so much that it is nearly impossible to reconstruct its ancient appearance.

 Civil War site reveals battle-related artifacts


Now we travel to Tennessee, where archaeologists from Middle Tennessee State University, led by archaeologist Dr. Tom Nolan, have recovered 40 to 50 artifacts near the Stones River Battlefield.   The Harding House Civil War History Survey, a geospatial and archaeological project, is being conducted on land slated for development this summer.   The dig has yielded Civil War-era pieces such as lead shot, a minie ball and a canister shot, and other battle-related artifacts.   

Volunteers, including anthropology and history students, as well as members of Middle Tennessee Metal Detectors, used metal detectors and GPS equipment to survey and map the area around the Harding House, whose location still has not been pinpointed.  The site is where Brigadier General Philip H. Sheridan’s Union army held up the Confederate advance during the first day of the Battle of Stones River on Dec.  31, 1862.  

Based on findings from a 1999 study prepared for the National Park Service, the Harding House was listed among the most significant sites and actions of the Battle of Stones River.  The site is the location of heavy fighting during the initial Confederate attack as Confederate Col. Arthur M.  Manigault and Brig. Gen. J.  Patton Anderson attacked the forces of both Union commanders Brig. Gen. Joshua Sill and Col. George Roberts.    

Once the area is developed, the historic record will be gone for good so it is considered important that recovery of historically significant artifacts continue.  Identifying the location of the Harding House and any outbuildings will further our knowledge on regimental positions and movements during the Battle of Stones River.   The fierce midwinter battle took place here from December 31, 1862, to January 2, 1863.  The Confederate Army withdrew after the battle and ceded control of Middle Tennessee to the Union.

2500 year-old marine evil eye talisman discovered in Israel


In Israel, David Shalon, a lifeguard diving on the underwater part of the Mediterranean coasta archaeological site of Yavne-Yam,  found a 2,500-year-old marble talisman used to ward off the evil eye, and he knew just what to do with it.  He promptly turned it over to the Israel Antiquities Authority.   The ancient disc once adorned the bow of an ancient ship.   Dating back to the 5th or 4th century BC, the white disc, which is flat on one side and convex on the other, measures 8 inches in diameter.  The center of the disc is perforated, and the remains of two circles are painted around the center of it to represent the pupil of an eye.   

According to the director of the Marine Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority, the finding confirms mythological tales about superstitious sailors.   It is known from drawings on pottery vessels that this type of talisman was very common on the bows of ships and was used to protect them from the evil eye and envy.   It was also meant as a navigation aid and to act as a pair of eyes which looked ahead and warned of danger.   Only four such artifacts have ever been found.  Two were recovered from ancient cargo shipwrecks found along the western coast of Turkey and two others were recovered from the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Israel.

Archaeological surveys in the same area have turned up other maritime artifacts, such as anchors, weights, fishing equipment, ovens for cooking, storage jars, bowls, and cooking pots that date to the Late Bronze Age, Persian, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods.  
First Americans sought underwater


Our final story is about a new underwater archaeological expedition to find the first Americans.   The two-week expedition in the Gulf of Mexico is looking for evidence of early American Indians along the ancient coast of Florida which is now about 300 feet underwater.   Dave Watters, curator and head of anthropology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History noted that there is no question in almost all archaeological minds that the earliest examples of North American occupation are underwater.

According to James Adovasio, Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute Director, potentially early sites may be located off the coast of Florida.   Before heading inland, paleo-Indians probably hugged the American coastline, congregating around freshwater rivers.   At the time, much of the world's water was confined to glaciers, causing ocean levels to be lower and exposing more of the continental shelf.   As the earth warmed and water levels rose, evidence of such settlements was covered deeper and deeper in water.  

Recent dredging and storms have turned up spearheads, bone tools and enticing clues that such sites are just waiting to be found in the Gulf of Mexico.   The research team hopes to find a freshwater spring that once was part of the Aucilla River, which flows out of Florida's panhandle and into the Gulf.  Animals would have gathered near the watering hole, which is now 120 to 360 feet underwater.   The 12-member research crew will survey the seabed, first with tools that use sound waves to map the Gulf's topography and then with a suitcase-sized diving robot fitted with cameras.  If something interesting is found in shallower water, scuba divers might be sent to explore it.   
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!