Audio News for April 22nd to April 28th, 2012


Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from April 22nd to April 28th, 2012.


Intact Roman ship from AD 200s included smuggled cargo


In our first story, Italian archaeologists investigating the cargo of a Roman shipwreck off the coast of Italy have discovered evidence of ancient smuggling activity. The ship, dating to the third century AD, was fully recovered six months ago at a depth of 7 feet off the shore of Marausa Lido, a beach resort located near Trapani, Italy.

The official cargo comprised assorted jars once filled with walnuts, figs, olives, wine, oil, and fish sauce. However, they also contained numerous unusual tubular tiles. The unique tiles were apparently valuable enough to warrant smuggling them from North Africa to Rome, where they sold for higher prices. The special tiles are small terracotta tubes with one pointed end, generally about three inches,in diameter and up to one foot in length. When the pointed end of one is fitted into the open end of the next, the row can be bent to form a single long, interlocked, snake of tiles that can be curved into shape to help form concrete vaulted roofs. Roman builders used these fictile (FIC-tile) tubes, or flexible vaulting tubes, to relieve the weight of a large vaulted building roof by forming rows of the tubes into a curving, hollow, but still strong layer sandwiched in between the heavier concrete layers. Good examples of vaults using fictile tubing still exist in the baths of the late Roman villa at Piazza Armerina.

According to Sebastiano Tusa, Sicily's Superintendent of the Sea Office, the hand-made vaulting tubes were made and sold in North Africa for a quarter of what builders paid for them in Rome, leading to a more or less tolerated type of smuggling, which sailors carried on to boost their poor salaries. They bought the small tubes cheaply when their ships docked in Africa, stashed them everywhere on board, and then re-sold them in Rome. According to Frank Sear, professor of classical studies at the University of Melbourne, vaults featuring rows of fictile tubes began in North Africa and were most common in about the 2nd century AD. Frequently imported to Sicily, the tiles turn up in many places such as Syracuse, Catania, Marsala, and Motya.

Tusa and his colleagues will report the wreck's discovery in a forthcoming publication by the Museum of the Sea in Cesenatico, a national meeting of underwater archaeology and naval history. Their analysis of the jars and their contents indicated that the 52 by 16 foot ship was sailing from North Africa when she sank some 1,700 years ago, probably while trying to enter the local river Birgi (bier-gee). The smuggled fictile tubes, along with the ceramic jars and food dishes of the sailors, were all in perfectly preserved condition because the sunken cargo ship was completely covered by a thick layer of clay and sea grass meadows, forming a sort of natural coating which also preserved most of the ship's wooden structure. Researchers have recovered more than 700 wooden pieces. According to Tusa, both the left and the right side of the hull remained almost intact, and once reassembled, this will be the most complete Roman ship ever found. The ship is being restored at a specialized lab in Salerno and will be displayed in a local museum within two years.

Ritual baths found in ancient caves show how Jewish priests fled Roman rule


In Israel, a fifth mikveh (meek-vay), or ritual bath, has been found in the caves on the Galilee's Cliffs of Arbel, indicating that the people who lived there under Roman rule were most likely Jews of the priestly class, known as kohanim. According to Yinon (yee nohn) Shivtiel, one of the researchers on the site, the discovery of mikvehs in archaeological excavations is always a sign of Jewish life. Shivtiel is a lecturer at the Zefat Academic College and Ohalo College and is presenting his findings at a conference at Tel-Hai College.

The importance of the mikveh is confirmed in the Mishna, the central texts of Jewish practice, which devotes an entire tractate to the role of the mikveh and the laws of immersion. The purification baths were located in caves that served as hiding places for the Jews who lived in the area and sought refuge from Roman rule, particularly during the Jewish revolt that resulted in the destruction of the Second Temple. According to Shivtiel, the effort needed to build mikvehs under such difficult circumstances indicates that these cave dwellers were probably kohanim or high priests.

Shivtiel and Vladimir Boslov of the Hebrew University's cave research unit have already discovered 500 caves of refuge during a comprehensive survey they've been conducting under the support of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. Shivtiel explains that the construction of mikvehs in places that are so remote and difficult of access is impressive not just because of the physical difficulty in digging them, but because their construction had to comply with all the specifics of Jewish law that the ritual demands, primarily a source of flowing water that will supply a large volume. Shivtiel consulted with rabbis to confirm the identity of the mikvehs, which are distinguished from an ordinary water storage cistern by three things: steps leading down into the bath, a water supply from a natural source, and enough water availability to allow immersion of the whole body. The builders at Arbel assured supplies of natural water by either building the ritual baths directly under still-dripping stalactites or by digging tunnels from the baths to outside the rock wall, so that runoff from rainwater could accumulate.

Other findings from cliff caves in the Arbel region show that the cave dwellers lived on minimal resources and in crowded conditions. Water storage pits, niches for candles, and remnants of cooking pots and pitchers show they had water, food and light sources, but not much more than that. However, the five mikvehs show that a full, and fully compliant, religious life was still provided for. Previous research has shown that when the priests found refuge in the Galilee after the destruction of the Second Temple, at least one group moved to Arbel.

Two new sites document the lives of Thomas Jefferson’s plantation slaves


Moving on to the United States, the historic area of Monticello has produced two previously unknown archaeological sites with Nineteenth Century artifacts, including remains of slave homes, some from Jefferson’s time in Virginia. The sites were found in April at Tufton, a historically significant plantation belonging to Thomas Jefferson, about a mile and a quarter east of his famous home at Monticello.

A preliminary assessment of the artifacts indicates that the earlier of the two sites was occupied in the first few decades of the Nineteenth Century, most likely by African slaves who worked on the Tufton plantation. Archaeologists recovered significant Jefferson-era artifacts including a padlock, which matches one found on Mulberry Row, another area of Jefferson’s extensive plantations, as well as a glass bead, a slate pencil, a metal coat button, and numerous pieces of datable ceramic shards that represent both English earthenwares and some Chinese porcelain. The second site contains artifacts dating from the mid through late-Nineteenth Century and the above-ground remains of at least two houses. These remains are a stone foundation and a brick chimney stack. These indicate that after Jefferson’s death and the sale of his slaves to pay his debts, the site was occupied by slaves belonging to the Macon family, who became Tufton’s new owners in 1833. The earlier site also contains artifacts from the Macon period.

The Jefferson-era remains on the earlier site provide archaeologists an opportunity to explore how the material lives of slaves residing on an outlying farm compared to the lives of enslaved domestic workers and artisans at the main plantation, as well as enslaved field hands who worked the fields of Monticello Mountain and lived on its slopes. Comparison with the later Nineteenth Century remains will show how the material lives of slaves changed from Jefferson’s time up to the Civil War, and then again after emancipation.

The new sites are significant in size, the earlier one measuring about 875 by 500 feet and the later one 750 by 200 feet. This is the biggest cluster of Jefferson-era artifacts found since the discovery of Site 8 in 1998. Site 8 was the main slave settlement on the Monticello home farms in the late 18th Century. According to Fraser Neiman, Director of Archaeology at Monticello, the newly discovered sites appear to represent multiple, widely spaced single-family houses. The Tufton plantation was part of Thomas Jefferson’s huge inheritance, and he later gave it to his daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph. Tufton served as important agricultural land, providing large amounts of crops and food sources for the Monticello plantation. Beginning in 1817, Tufton came under the management of Jefferson’s grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph.

Search for ancient temple of Laodicea continues


In our final story, from Iran, a team of Iranian archaeologists recently has returned to an area in the northwestern town of Nahavand in Hamedan Province, to search for traces of the Laodicea (LAY-oh-dih-SEE-a) Temple. They suspect the ancient temple, built under the Greek rulers of the region in the 2nd century BC, is buried beneath the many houses built by the locals on the site over the years. According to team director Mehdi Rahbar, construction of the homes has caused such destruction that it may be very difficult to find the temple’s actual site. The first search for the temple in 1948, led by French archaeologist Roman Ghirshman, was halted when he found widespread disturbance in the archaeological strata.

In 2006, Iranian cultural officials announced a plan to buy up a number of houses in a region in order to facilitate the excavation of the area.  In June 2005, a team of Iranian archaeologists led by Rahbar began searching for the temple in Nahavand, one of the most ancient cities in Iran. However, no details were published about the study.

The hunt began when in 1943, archaeologists discovered an ancient inscription of 30 lines written in Greek calling on the people of Nahavand, then known by its Greek name of Laodicea, to obey the laws of the government. The inscription also mentioned the Laodicea Temple, thus linking the town to a temple built there by Antiochus (an-TIE-oh-kus) III the Great around 223 to 187 BC. Laodicea was also the name of eight other prominent cities in western Asia, including a famous site in western Turkey, as well as a series of queens and princesses among the royal houses built by Alexander’s successors. One such Laodicea was the wife of Antiochus the Great, and is sometimes thus named as the reason for the famous temple’s construction in a town that bore the same name as the queen.

Two other inscriptions and four bronze statuettes from the period have been unearthed at Nahavand. Over the years, numerous capitals and bases of the temple’s columns have turned up and are used as decorations in Nahavand’s Hajian Bazaar and several other parts of the city.

Antiochus was the most distinguished of the Seleucid (sel-YOU-sid) kings who ruled Asia Minor after its conquest by Alexander the Great. Under Antiochus, the Seleucids extended their domain from the vassal states of Parthia in present-day northeastern Iran and Bactria, well into Central Asia, to their northwest lands in modern Turkey, and even came to rule all of Palestine and Lebanon, through wars with the Egyptian king Ptolemy V. Antiochus later went to war with the Romans, though, who defeated him in 190 BC and forced him to surrender all his lands in Anatolia and to pay costly tribute. Antiochus thus rebuilt his kingdom in the east, but failed to successfully challenge Rome in the west. His heirs ruled until 63 BC, when the Roman general Pompey finally conquered the Seleucids’ last remaining lands for Rome.

That wraps up the news for this week!
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