Audio News for March 22nd to March 28th, 2009

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for March 22nd to March 28th, 2009.


Unusual triangular building in Cyprus may be old temple


Our first story is from Cyprus, where an Italian archaeologist has unearthed what she believes is the oldest location of religious worship.   According to archaeologist Maria Rosaria Belgiorno, the triangular building is a temple that predates any other found on the eastern Mediterranean island by a thousand years.  She claims it confirms that religious worship in Cyprus began much earlier than previously believed.

The 2,150 square foot building was discovered in an area where previous digs unearthed a settlement that included a perfumery, winery and a metal workshop.  Cyprus Antiquities Department official Maria Hadjicosti noted that the site dates to around 2,000 BC, but the interpretation that the newly discovered structure is a temple or a sacred site has yet to be confirmed and supplementary assessment is needed.

Belgiorno maintains that evidence points to a monotheistic temple with a sacrificial altar that resembles Canaanite places of worship described in the Bible.  A key piece of evidence linking the site to Biblical accounts of temples in ancient Palestine is a pair of 20-foot stone channels extending from either side of the altar that allowed sacrificial animals' blood to flow out of the structure.   Other evidence includes a stone water basin, which might have been used in the ritual cleansing of the channels.   Belgiorno places the location of the temple across from the industrial area, in the heart of the settlement.  The industrial area was built around a large mill producing olive oil used as fuel to fire up the metal workshop and as a perfume base.

Although it is difficult to say with certainty, she believes the settlement was home to around 500 people.  Their origins are unclear, but they had trade links with ancient Egypt and Palestine.  A major earthquake destroyed the settlement in 1850 BC.    

Are Maltese tunnels secret passages or an elaborate plumbing system?


Now we skip across the Mediterranean to Malta, where a tunnel network has been uncovered beneath the historic heart of the capital of Valletta.  The tunnels date back to the 16th and early 17th centuries, when the Knights of Malta, one of the major Christian military orders of the 11th- to 13th-Century Crusades, fortified Valletta against Muslim attack.

For centuries, it's been alleged that the Knights constructed an underground city on the Mediterranean island, sparking tales of hidden carriageways and underground military labyrinths.  The most recent tunnels were found beneath Palace Square, opposite the Grandmaster's Palace which was once home to the leader of the Knights of Malta, and now houses Malta's legislature and the office of the Maltese president.  Restoration architect Edward Said, of the Malta Heritage Trust, suspects that instead of secret passages, these tunnels formed part of a state-of-the-art plumbing system, complete with ancient access and maintenance passageways.   Other rumors of underground Valletta include a secret carriageway from the city to the palace of the Roman Catholic inquisitor under Valletta's harbor.  Such tales of secret military passages have more solid foundations, according to Said, since underground passages do run beneath the battlements protecting Valletta's land front.  However, Said suspects many of the subterranean legends spring from water supply and drainage tunnels.

In the latest discovery, workers found what is thought to have been an underground reservoir just under the paving stones of Palace Square.   Near the bottom of the reservoir, some 40 feet down, they discovered a large opening in a reservoir wall, the entrance to a tunnel, which runs half the length of the square and connects to channels, some that lead to the palace.

Also known as the Knights Hospitaller and the Order of Saint John, the Knights of Malta, established in 1099, gained a formidable military reputation as enemies of Muslims during the Crusades.  In 1530, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V offered the knights the island of Malta in exchange for an annual fee of a single Maltese falcon.

The order, though vastly outnumbered by Ottoman Turks, triumphed in the Great Siege of Malta in 1565.  The experience motivated them to found the fortress city of Valletta on a high peninsula that was secure but lacking in natural water sources.  Water security was a major priority during the city's construction, the goal being to maintain the supply even during future sieges.  Water was transported to the city from valleys to the west via an aqueduct, the remains of which still stand.   

Iraqi drought boon for archaeologists


Shifting our attention to Iraq, that country is suffering one of the worst droughts in decades.  While bad for farmers, it is good news for archaeologists.   The receding waters of the Euphrates River have revealed previously inaccessible archaeological sites.

According to Ratib Ali al-Kubaisi, director of Anbar Province's Antiquities Department, many archaeologists previously thought that Anbar was only desert with no historical importance.  However, it now seems possible that this part of Iraq was the first to be settled.

In the mid-1980s, Saddam Hussein's government dammed the Euphrates in the area, flooding a 120-mile-long stretch of land near Iraq's border with Syria.  With the drought, what once was an enormous reservoir has shrunk an astounding 90 percent since summer.  Before the area was flooded, at least 75 archaeological sites were partially excavated.  They encompassed a range of civilizations dating from 3,000 BC and including the Sumerian and Roman periods.  Also submerged in the area were Ancient Jewish settlements.

Now, with the receding waters, Ratib and his team have been able to access some sites for the first time, including a cliff with a series of pre-Christian tombs carved into its face and a never- before-seen Roman-era irrigation ditch.
Ratib wishes they could excavate these sites again, but the country is short on money and the resources.  There is also concern that the new areas will be looted.  In all of Anbar, just 10 guards protect vulnerable archaeological sites.   Ratib will ask Baghdad's central government for money to begin new excavations and to protect the sites.  He commented that he would demand a new survey of the whole area.  Moreover, if they have the budget, they will start work on it immediately.  But he acknowledges there will probably not be enough money.  

Mass grave of Irish immigrants located


Our final story is from the United States, where archaeologists may have solved the case of 57 Irish immigrants who died mysteriously 17 decades ago in Pennsylvania.  In 1832, the men had come from Donegal, Tyrone, and Derry counties in Ireland to work for railroad man Philip Duffy.  They helped build what was then the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, now the R5 line of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, but died about eight weeks later, most from cholera, although some researchers suspect violence as well.  The men were buried together in a ditch somewhere near where they had lived in a shantytown.  Last week, an archaeology research team based at Immaculata University in Chester County uncovered 90 human bones that they believe are part of a mass grave containing the workers' remains.

The Duffy's Cut Project, an archaeological research initiative, began in 2002 when Rev. Frank Watson; his twin, William, a history professor at Immaculata; and several colleagues began a dig to find the gravesite of the men.  The story of the immigrants came to the attention of the Watson when they found a file, locked in a railroad office vault that they had inherited from their grandfather, Joseph F. Tripician.  Tripician was the private secretary to Martin W. Clement, who served as president of the railroad for 16 years starting in 1933.   Information in the file about the men and the burial site led to a wooded area near East Whiteland Township.  The file also contained reports of ghost sightings of three men dancing on their own graves.

For the past seven years, the team has been digging near the site, uncovering several thousand artifacts including pots, buttons, and smoking pipes.  Team members combed newspapers, diaries, and immigration records to learn more about the men.  The turning point came late last week.  The team found bones including two skulls, teeth, and toe and leg bones that could be remains from up to four people.   The remains will be catalogued and examined first by the Chester County coroner, then by researchers with the Smithsonian Institution.  DNA testing will follow, with hopes of matching the results with remains of family members in Ireland.  Already the researchers believe they have identified the skull of 18-year-old John Ruddy from Donegal.

Once the bones are recovered, the team will commemorate them and give them a proper burial.

That wraps up the news for this week!
For more stories and daily news updates, visit Archaeologica on the World Wide Web at , where all the news is history!
I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!