Audio News for September 14th to September 20th, 2008

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news September 14th to September 20th, 2008.


New work at Troy reveals much larger town


Our first story is from Turkey, where new excavations are revealing that ancient Troy was much bigger than previously thought.  The lower town may have been as large as 100 acres, and home to as many as 10,000 people.  According to Professor Ernst Pernicka (PER-nick-a), the new data include two large pithoi (PITH-oy), or storage jars, found near the city’s boundary ditch.  Pithoi are giant clay vessels up to six feet high that were kept in or near homes for storing water, oil or grain.  The location of the find suggests that houses filled the lower town to its edges, another indication that this section of Troy below the citadel was fully inhabited.  This would mean that the city was bigger than previous expeditions revealed.  A change of interpretations for the legendary city is nothing new.  Troy has been a contentious site ever since Heinrich Schliemann and Frank Calvert identified it in the mound of Hissarlik (HISS-ar-lick) more than a century ago.  The reality of the Trojan War has been equally controversial, although Homer’s account fits the geography around Hissarlik  surprisingly well, and it seems likely that the Iliad does indeed reflect a conflict around 1180 BC, towards the end of the Bronze Age, in the region of the Aegean Sea.  Homer’s account was doubted for a long time because his description of Achilles chasing Hector around the walls did not fit well with the small site that can be seen today.  Excavations by the late Manfred Korfmann showed that this Troy was just the citadel, however.   A much larger lower town lay south of it, surrounded by a rock-cut ditch.  Professor Pernicka’s (PER-nick-a) continuation of Korfmann’s work has confirmed the substantial nature of this defensive structure.  He has traced it for almost a mile, and measured it to be 12 feet wide and 6 feet deep.  The length of the defenses may be as much as a mile and a half.   This year’s work has established that the trench continues around the town.  The team has found a southern gate, a southeastern gate, and traces of a southwestern gate, and they expect to find an eastern gate, all providing evidence of town planning.  The new evidence counters Korfmann’s critics, who claimed that the trench was for drainage and not any substantial defenses.

Pakistan’s past imperiled by religious attacks, looters, and neglect


In Pakistan, the valley of Swat – a land of beauty, a celebrated seat of learning, and the center of the Gandhara (gand-HAH- rah) Civilization – is being lost to war.  According to the independent Karachi-based news magazine Newsline, the valley has turned into a source of violence since Maulana (maw-LAH-na) Fazlullah (faz-LOO-la), a cleric turned Taliban commander, started broadcasting extremist messages through an illegal FM radio station in July 2006, and the Taliban took over.  Fazlullah’s militants attacked many places and did not spare Buddhist statues, monasteries and rock carvings.  They viewed these sites as the remnants of an infidel civilization whose eradication would give them a high place in paradise.  On October 8, 2007, Fazlullah’s radicals disfigured a 23-foot tall, seated Buddha from the seventh century A.D., carved from the rock of a mountain in Jehandabad (gee-HAWND-a-bahd) village.  A group of 40 to 50 militants attacked the meditating Buddha during the night with explosives, badly damaging the upper portion of the carving.  According to Muhammad Aqleem, director of Swat Museum, this was the rarest piece of Buddhist art in the region after the Buddhist statues in Bamiyan (BAHM-i-yan), Afghanistan, which were destroyed by the Taliban in March 2001.  Aqleem believes that if decisive steps are not taken, the remaining 22 Buddhist sites will be lost to the violence.  Through successive periods of history, this region has played host to Alexander the Great, the Mauryans (MOHR-ee-ans), the Indo-Greeks, the Indo-Scythians, the Kushans, the Turk-Shahis (SHAW-hees) and the Hindu-Shahis.  During the reign of the Mauryan king, Ashoka (a-SHO-kah), who was the first to unite India, Buddhism thrived in the Swat Valley and spread to Central Asia and China.  Between the 1st century BC and the 4th century AD, Buddhism left its mark here in the form of stupas, monasteries, art, coins, pottery, and other artifacts.  However, the Taliban are not the only ones guilty of wrecking such archaeological treasures; the local people have also destroyed archaeological sites to extract stones and bricks for use in the construction of their houses, and treasure-hunters pillage these sites in the hope of finding valuables.  

Hurricane uncovers Gulf Coast shipwreck


In the United States, archaeologists are getting help from Mother Nature.  When the waves from Hurricane Ike receded, they revealed a mystery; a ragged shipwreck that researchers say could be a two-masted Civil War schooner that ran aground in 1862, or another ship from some 70 years later.   The wreck, outside of Fort Morgan, Alabama, had already been partially uncovered when Hurricane Camille cleared away sand in 1969.  Archaeologists at the time identified it as the Monticello, a Confederate battleship sailing from Havana that partially burned in 1862 when it crashed trying to get past the U.S. Navy and into Mobile Bay during the Civil War.  According to Museum of Mobile marine archaeologist Shea McLean, what we know of ships lost in that area makes the Monticello the most likely candidate.  McLean noted that to reach 100 percent certainty, investigators would have to recover the bell with “Monticello” inscribed on.  Some information fits the Monticello.  But other clues indicate it could be an early 20th century schooner that ran aground on the Alabama coast in 1933.  The wrecked ship measures 137 feet long and 25 feet wide.  The Monticello was listed in shipping records as 136 feet long.  But Mike Bailey, site curator at Fort Morgan, pointed out that in 2000, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report determined the remains were the schooner Rachel, built at Moss Point, Mississippi, in 1919 and wrecked near Fort Morgan in 1933.  Bailey examined the ship’s remains and said the wreckage appears to have components like steel cables that would point to the Rachel rather than the 1860s schooner.  Glenn Forest, another archaeologist who examined the wreck, said a full and complete identification would require an excavation.  In the meantime, curious beach-goers have been drawn to the remains of the wooden hull filled with rusted iron fittings.  Confederate forces defended Fort Morgan in 1864 as Union forces attacked during the Battle of Mobile Bay.

City on the Caspian may be the capital of a long-lost medieval Jewish empire


An archaeologist in Russia believes he has found the lost capital of the Khazars (KAH-zars).  The Khazars (KAH-zars) were a dominant nation that adopted Judaism as its official religion more than 1,000 years ago, but subsequently disappeared as a culturally-distinct people, leaving little trace of their society.  According to Dmitry Vasilyev (va-SIL-ee-yev), a professor at Astrakhan (AH-stra-kon) State University, the nine-year excavation near the Caspian Sea has finally unearthed the foundations of a triangular fortress constructed from kiln-fired brick, along with modest yurt-shaped dwellings.  Vasilyev believes these are part of what was once Itil (ih-TEEL), the Khazar (KAH-zar) capital.   By law, Khazars could use the hard-fired bricks only in the capital.  The general location of the city was known to be on the Silk Road, as recorded by various medieval Arab, Jewish and European authors.  Vasilyev  noted that the discovery of the capital of Eastern Europe's first feudal state is of great significance for regional and Russian history.  The Khazars (KAH-zars) were a semi-nomadic Turkic people that roamed the steppes from Northern China to the Black Sea.  Between the 7th and 10th centuries A.D., they conquered huge areas of what is now known as southern Russia and Ukraine, the Caucasus Mountains and Central Asia, stretching as far east as the Aral Sea.  Itil had a population of up to 60,000 and occupied nearly a full square mile of the Russian Caspian Sea port now known as Astrakhan (AH-stra-kon).  The Khazar capital lay at a major junction of the Silk Road, the trade route between Europe and China, and control of this route made the Khazar Empire a regional superpower.  Vasilyev’s team has found opulent collections of well preserved ceramics that help identify cultural ties of the Khazar state with Europe, the Byzantine Empire and even North Africa.  They also found armor, wooden kitchenware, glass lamps and cups, jewelry, and vessels for transporting balms, all dating to the Eighth and Ninth centuries.  According to Dr. Simon Kraiz, an expert on Eastern European Jewry at Haifa University, while the excavations are of great interest, the challenge is still to find Khazar.  Vasilyev says no Jewish artifacts have been found at the site and, in general, most of what is known about the Khazars comes from narratives from other, sometimes competing cultures and empires.  But from the Khazars themselves we have nearly nothing.  The Khazars' ruling dynasty and nobility converted to Judaism sometime in the 8th or 9th centuries. Yevgeny (yev-GAIN-ee) Satanovsky (sat-an-OFF-ski), director of the Middle Eastern Institute in Moscow, believes their elite chose Judaism out of political expediency, as a way to remain independent of neighboring Muslim and Christian states.  A very limited number of Jewish religious artifacts, such as the Star of David, is found at Khazar sites, which suggests that ordinary Khazars preferred traditional beliefs such as shamanism, or shifted to other newly introduced religions, including Islam.   For some centuries, however, the Khazar Empire successfully opposed the Arab advance into the Caucasus Mountains.   They were thus instrumental in containing a Muslim push toward Eastern Europe, but a young, expanding Russian state vanquished the Khazar Empire in the late 10th century.  Medieval Russian epic poems mention Russian warriors fighting the "Jewish Giant."   The Itil excavations have been sponsored by the Russian-Jewish Congress, a nonprofit organization that supports cultural projects in Russia.

That wraps up the news for this week!
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