Audio news from September 12th to September 18th, 2010


Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from September 12th to September 18th, 2010.


Melting ice reveals drive lines of Iron Age hunters


Our first story is from Norway, where climate change is exposing reindeer hunting gear used by the Vikings' ancestors faster than archaeologists can collect it from the melting ice fields in northern Europe's highest mountains.  It’s like a time machine, said Lars Piloe, a Danish scientist heading a team of "snow patch archaeologists" on recently bare ground 6000 feet above sea level in mid-Norway.  The ice has not been this size in many, many centuries.  Specialized hunting sticks, bows and arrows and a 3,400-year-old leather shoe are among the finds from a melt in the Jotunheimen Mountains, the home of the "Ice Giants" of Norse mythology.  As water streams off the Juvfonna ice field, Piloe and two other archaeologists collect them, but time grows ever shorter as the Ice Giants' stronghold shrinks.  The team focuses on rescue, as there are many ice patches and they can only cover a few.  Freed from an ancient freeze, wood rots in a few years.  Arrow feathers, wool and leather crumble to dust in days unless sent to a laboratory and stored in a freezer.  It is unusual to have so many finds turn up at the same time, with 600 artifacts so far at Juvfonna alone.  

Farther south, the alarming rate of thaw has also been noted by archaeologists working in the Alps.  Stanford University’s Patrick Hunt, who is tracing the route over which Carthaginian general Hannibal invaded Italy in 218 BC with an army that included elephants, also noted the "alarming rate" of thaw.  This is the first summer since 1994, when Hunt’s team began their excavations at over 8,000 feet elevation, that they have not had even one day of rain, sleet and snow flurries.  Glaciers are in retreat from the Alps to the Andes.  According to Michael Zemp, director of the Swiss-based World Glacier Monitoring Service, over the past 150 years, the trend of glacial retreat has been worldwide, and while many factors are in play, the main driver is global warming.  In Norway, some ice fields are the smallest they have been for at least 3,000 years.  The front edge of Jovfunna has retreated about 18 meters, or 60 feet, over the past year, exposing artifacts that have been carbon dated to the Iron Age 1,500 years ago.  Others may be from Viking times of 1,000 years ago.  Inside the Juvfonna ice, researchers have carved a cave to expose layers of ice dating back 6,000 years.  Some dark patches turned out to be ancient reindeer droppings, giving off a characteristic smell when thawed out.  

Ice fields like Juvfonna differ from glaciers in that they do not slide downhill.  This means that  artifacts melt out approximately where they were left, which provides an in situ record of hunting techniques as well as the tools.  On Juvfonna, most finds are what are called "scare sticks," about three feet long.  Each has a separate, flapping piece of wood about 1 foot long, which was originally tied at the top.  The connecting thread is rarely found since it disintegrates within days of exposure.  The archaeologists think they were set up about 6 feet apart in a long row, to drive reindeer toward hunters.  According to Piloe, such a hunt would require 15 to 20 people, indicating Norway had well-organized groups 1,500 years ago.  Hunters needed to get within about 60 feet of a reindeer in order to successfully bring them down with an iron-tipped arrow.  

All the finds are logged with a GPS satellite marker before being taken to the lab for examination.


Vandals damage Arizona petroglyph site


In the United States, archaeologists are assessing damage to a 1,000-year-old rock art panel in a northern Arizona forest.  A hiker reported the damage last month at the Kaibab National Forest's Keyhole Sink, named for the keyhole-shaped lava flow.  According to Kaibab archaeologist Neil Weintraub, the vandalism looks to have been done by an impatient individual wielding a bucket of white paint and a wide paint brush.  The heavy paint marks cover and spatter ancient rock images, known as petroglyphs, made by Native Americans.  According to Weintraub, it is often difficult to catch those responsible for defacing petroglyphs.  The senseless act not only damages the fragile rock art, but in this case it also has degraded a special place enjoyed by several thousand visitors each year.  

The petroglyphs are protected under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979, which specifies that no one without authorization may excavate, remove, damage, or otherwise alter or deface any archaeological resource located on public lands or Indian lands.  If the cost of restoration and repair of the petroglyph panel exceeds $500, the graffiti artist faces fines up to $20,000 and may be imprisoned for up to two years.  Repeat offenders are fined up to $100,000 and imprisoned for up to five years.  The lava flow itself was defaced four years ago when vandals scratched names on it, which later were rubbed out.  Weintraub said the petroglyphs weren't affected then.  The prehistoric cultural group that made the petroglyphs is called the Cohonina, and probably is ancestral to the Hopi, Hualapai and Havasupai tribes that inhabit nearby areas.  The bear paws, snakes and lizards in the rock art panel are similar to Hopi clan symbols.  The panel also depicts an ancient hunting scene.

Roman conquest efforts revealed in German battle site


Next, we go to Germany, where new finds at a well-preserved ancient battlefield in the north are not only rewriting geo-political history, but also revealing some secrets of Rome's military success.  Until two years ago, northern Germany was believed to have been a no-go area for Roman troops after three legions were wiped out by a coalition of Germanic tribes in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in AD 9.  The findings now show where two centuries later, in AD 235, a Roman force mounted a disciplined raid deep inside the tribal areas in an effort to change that, during the reign of the soldier-emperor, Maximinus Thrax.  The debris from the battle spreads over a wooded hill, the Harzhorn, where excavations this summer turned up 1,800 artifacts.  Torsion catapults, some of the most advanced weapons in the Roman arsenal, had pounded a single spot on the hill and 70 points from these armor-piercing weapons were still lying in the ground.  According to Michael Moosbauer, an archaeology professor at the Harzhorn site, the catapults, mounted on wagons, had a range of up to 200 meters, or 600 feet.  The iron points each weighed 200 grams, or about a half pound.  The Romans' supremacy was assisted through the diverse skills of their multi-ethnic army.  Among the auxiliaries employed on the Harzhorn were Moroccan javelin experts and Middle Eastern archers.  The Roman historian Herodian wrote that Maximinus laid waste to the whole country, destroying crops, burning down villages after allowing the army to plunder them, and stealing cattle from the Germans, whom he referred to as barbarians.  

One technique used by the archaeologists to map the battle is tracking the studs that fell off Roman sandals as the troops climbed the Harzhorn on foot.  The evidence suggests they overcame their opponents before continuing on their way.  One clue is the absence of buckles in the soil, typically left behind on battlefields when victors ripped the armor off slain Roman legionaries.  In addition, if any imperial troops did fall on the Harzhorn, they're buried elsewhere, as no Roman human remains have been found.  Nevertheless, the Romans may have sustained some losses.  Among the finds are parts of an ornate Roman scabbard, dated from its style to the battle period, and the bones of a horse, carbon-dated to about AD 235.  Also fitting the date are nine coins, one minted in AD 228.  Government archaeology officials used metal detectors to help mark out the battle site, measuring 500 by 2,000 meters.  Almost all of the metal debris found is Roman, including tent pegs and trim from wagons.  The soil is alkaline, which slows the corrosion of the metal.  The only Germanic debris located so far comprises one spearhead and a few arrowheads, but the archaeologists have only dug a few test trenches so far.  

Maximinus Thrax may have won the battle, but met his end only three years later, assassinated by his own men as he marched to Rome to consolidate his power.

Herod’s royal theater box decorated in sophisticated Roman style


Our final story is from Israel, where a royal theater box built in the upper level of King Herod's private theater at Herodium has now been completely excavated, yielding further evidence of the Jewish monarch’s lavish lifestyle.  Professor Ehud Netzer conducted the excavations at Herodium National Park, south of Jerusalem, under the patronage of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Institute of Archaeology.  The theater, first exposed in 2008, is located halfway up the hill near Herod's mausoleum.  The highly decorated small building was built in approximately 15 BC, the year of the visit of Roman leader Marcus Agrippa, Emperor Augustus's right-hand man.  

The royal box measures about 20 by 25 feet and stands nearly 20 feet high in the center of a group of rooms attached to the upper part of the theater's structure.  Here the king hosted close friends and family members in a room as elaborately decorated as any performance.  The back and side walls of the box have a sophisticated design of wall paintings and plaster moldings in a style that has not been seen thus far in Israel, but is known to have been popular in Rome and Campania during the time.  The work was probably performed by Italian artists, perhaps sent by Marcus Agrippa, who a year before his visit to Judea met Herod on the Greek island of Lesbos.  On the upper parts of the walls are a series of unique false windows, painted as if they had shutters folded out on both sides to reveal various landscapes revealed through the window.  These include scenes of the countryside, the Nile River and a nautical scene featuring a large boat with sails.  Some of these windows have survived intact on the walls, while others, found in fragments on the floor, are undergoing restoration at the Israel Museum's laboratory.  

Painted windows with shutters appear in the late Second Pompeian Style in Italy, and mainly depict unrealistic views like theater settings or still life paintings.  The closest parallels for the windows at Herodium are known from the Villa Imperiale  (VIL-la im-PAIR-ee-AWL-eh) at Pompeii, which dates to the early Third Style of painting between 10 and 15 BC.  The data gathered during the excavation show that the theater's lifetime was very short, less than ten years.  The theater was deliberately destroyed just before Herod's death in order to preserve the conical shape of the artificial hill of Herodium.  During the construction of the artificial hill, however, the builders left traces in the form of temporary walls, cooking locations and graffiti.  They used parts of the theater as they built it, including Herod’s box.  

The royal box site at Herod's theater will be opened to the public once a special protective structure is built around the room when the theater undergoes a partial restoration.

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