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

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

“Venus” rises out of Mediterranean


Our first story is from Israel, where a brutal winter storm brought with it an unexpected benefit. The rough seas that battered the shore near Ashkelon uncovered an archaeological treasure: a white marble Roman statue of a woman clad in a toga and sandals.  Standing 1.2 meters tall, the statue is nestled in the remains of a cliff that had crumbled under the gale-force winds.

Dating to approximately 1,800 to 2,000 years ago, a period in which the Romans occupied western Judea, the statue weighs in at 200 kg and is missing its head and arms.  Researchers also recovered fragments of mosaics and bits from a Roman bathhouse at the site.  According to Yigal Israeli, a researcher with the Israel Antiquities Authority, other artifacts may have washed out into the ocean in the storm.  

The ancient seaport of Ashkelon dates back to the Neolithic Age.  Throughout its history, the Canaanites, Philistines, Israelites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Phoenicians,  Romans, Persians, Egyptians, and the Crusaders have ruled it, until the Mamluks destroyed it in AD 1270.


Japanese recover their dead on Iwo Jima


Next, we travel to Iwo Jima in the South Pacific, where Naoto Kan became only the second Japanese prime minister to visit the World War II battlefield.  He came to pay his respects to the 21,000 plus Japanese who fell in battle on the Pacific island.  

The US Marine invasion, known as Operation Detachment, launched its attack on February 19, 1945, and continued to March 26, 1945.  The Battle of Iwo Jima was a major campaign in the Pacific Theater of World War II, intended to capture the Japanese airfields on the island, which had been harassing U.S. bombing missions to Tokyo.  Once secured, Americans could use the bases in the imminent invasion of the Japanese mainland.  

The battle was the first U.S. attack on the Japanese Home Islands and the Imperial soldiers defended their positions doggedly.  The Imperial Japanese Army positions on the island consisted of heavily fortified bunkers, hidden artillery and 18 kilometers of tunnels.  Of the 21,000 Japanese soldiers present at the beginning of the battle, over 20,000 were killed and only 1,083 taken prisoner.  Recently, civilian search teams discovered two mass graves on the volcanic isle.  The graves, one at the foot of Mount Suribachi, where U.S. troops famously raised their flags, are thought to contain the remains of up to 2,200 men.  Archaeologists are now engaged in the grim task of exhuming the bodies in addition to finding enough evidence to help identify the soldiers.  One of the archaeologist said the badly jumbled bones possibly reflect the way the Americans hurriedly buried the bodies after the battle.  The remains that archaeologist can’t identify will be sent to a tomb for unknown soldiers in Tokyo.  The Japanese government has said it will notify the American government if any remains uncovered might be from the 218 America soldiers still missing.

The discovery of the remains has been one of the biggest breakthroughs in decades toward finding the bodies of roughly 12,000 Japanese who remain missing and presumed dead after the 1945 battle on the island, renamed Ioto by the Japanese government.  The former battleground was deliberately forgotten by the Japanese people, most of whom associate it with a dark period in their nation’s history.  However, recent films like Clint Eastwood's Oscar-winning film Letters from Iwo Jima have brought the battle back to national consciousness.  The government in Tokyo now has decided that the time is right to recover the bodies of its soldiers who fell in the battle.  The decision by the Japanese Government and Prime Minister Kan is a bold step to help address the feelings associated not only with Iwo Jima but also with the war in general.

Stone tools may save Canadian forest


Across the Pacific Ocean in Canada, opponents of development in the Beaver Pond forest of Kanata, Ontario, say they have found new tools for the fight -- stone tools shaped about 10,000 years ago.  The area's councilor is not so sure these artifacts will help the opponents of development, but she is going to do some legal checking.  

The newest hitch is based on a 2005 survey of nearby land--not the Beaver Pond forest itself, but a neighboring site.  After the last ice age, when most of Ottawa was under the Champlain Sea, the South March Highlands formed a rocky island.  Early hunters, believed to have lived there, hunted seals and whales in the shallow sea.  A residential development group did an archaeological survey that concluded nothing was special about the site, then filed that with the provincial government, and got permission to build homes there.  

Steve Hulaj, president of the Kanata Lakes Community Association, says the government too quickly dismissed the thousands of sharpened stones found on nearby lands that show the Beaver Pond's archaeological significance.  In addition, he points to a written opinion this year from prominent arcaheologist Robert McGhee that concludes that developers should consider the rocky upland areas of the proposed development to be of high potential as a site of early human settlement.  

The survey shows more than 16,000 artifacts only a few hundred yards away.  Archaeologists classify these artifacts as cutting tools, scraping tools, and adzes as well as thousands of flakes left over from shaping the sharp edges.  Now Hulaj says it's the city's obligation to approach the provincial Ministry of Citizenship and Culture and suggests that the original archaeological survey was incomplete.  He says developers should survey the site again before they cut any trees.  The city can ask for another survey, but it will not save the land, according to Councilor Marianne Wilkinson, representing the area.  

The landowners are required to do an archaeological survey prior to developing, but once they have completed a survey and the proper authorities approve it, they can develop.  The developer says another survey is not necessary.  The developer says it completed a very detailed survey that found nothing significant.  However, it is still responsible for reporting artifacts if it finds something major during the development.
Mary Jarvis, Urbandale's director of planning and land development, notes the standard practice for the archaeologist is to walk the site in a very detailed and controlled manner.  She said the author of that survey would return to the site, although the conditions in winter are not good, and have another look.

Discarded statue fragments found at Luxor


Our final story is from Egypt, where Minister of Culture Farouk Hosny announced the discovery of two 3000-year-old statuary fragments, depicting the god Hapi and Pharaoh Amenhotep III, at the pharaoh's mortuary temple in Luxor.  The 18th Dynasty Amenhotep III, father of “heretic” Pharaoh Akhenaton and grandfather to King Tut, ruled from 1410 to 1372 BC.  

Archaeologists found the two granite fragments during routine excavations on the northern side of the temple.  The site was once was the largest temple in Egypt; dwarfing that of Karnak. Regrettably, Amenhotep III built his mortuary temple too close to the edge of the Nile floodplain and it collapsed less than 200 years after its construction.  All that remains of the 350,000 square meters temple complex are the well-known Colossi of Memnon, two massive seating statues depicting the pharaoh.  

Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, explained that the first artifact is a 2.73-meter tall head of the ancient Egyptian deity Hapi.  Hapi was one of the four sons of the god Horus and appears with a baboon face.  The second object is a fragment of a larger statue of Amenhotep III, which features two legs measuring 30 centimeter tall.

Due to the large amount of statuary found in the area, Dr Hawass believes the ancient Egyptians may have used the northern side of the temple as a burial spot for the broken and damaged statues.  Because the statuary was ritually significant, the Egyptians could not destroy it.  Instead, Hawass believes that they gathered the fallen statues and buried them in a cache beside the temple.  

Abdel Ghaffar Wagdi, supervisor of the excavation team, said that excavators now are focusing on uncovering more statues from the agricultural land surrounding Amenhotep III’s mortuary temple.  In the past two archaeological seasons, five double statues of King Amenhotep III accompanied by the deities Re-Horakhti (Ray hor ACK tee) Khepri (Kef ree), Horus, and Hapi have been found at the mortuary temple, as well as what is possibly the best preserved depiction of Amenhotep III’s face found to date -- a colossal 2.5 meter granite head.  

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