Audio News for January 6th to January 12th, 2013 

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from January 6th to January 12th, 2013.

Gold coin cache discovered in Iraq

Original Headline:  Ancient gold coins discovered in Iraq


Our first story is from Iraq, where Iraqi archaeologists have found 66 gold coins at least 1,400 years old.  Researchers will perform lab tests on the coins, dating back to the Sassanid era that extended from AD 224 to 651, to confirm their authenticity.  The coins hold the insignia of a king or god as well as flames.  Excavators discovered the cache 70 kilometers southeast of Baghdad.

Vandals have looted many of Iraq's archaeological sites in recent decades, but escalation occurred in the years following the American invasion of 2003, when looters even stole from the capital's National Museum.  Vandals stole nearly 32,000 pieces from 12,000 archaeological sites across Iraq, and 15,000 other pieces disappeared from the National Museum, according to official figures.  Illegal excavations at remote isolated sites removed thousands more artifacts.

During the rule of Saddam Hussein, Iraq enforced laws protecting historical sites.  Since his ouster, such laws have seen lax enforcement and the government has prioritized reconstruction of the war-battered country over preservation of its heritage sites.

With its rich history and cultural heritage, Iraq long has been a destination of choice for archaeologists around the world.  Last year a string of excavations led to the discovery of a new Assyrian site in the northern Arbil province and inscribed mud bricks belonging to the ancient city of Ur.  However, Iraq's archeological treasures have lured not only researchers.  In recent years, selling illegally excavated artifacts has become a lucrative trade.  


Mini dome may have been model for Italian cathedral

Original Headline:  Scale Model Discovered for Florence Cathedral


In Florence, Italy, archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a mini dome, with evidence indicating that the structure served as a scale model for Florence’s cathedral, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi.  Measuring 9 feet in circumference, workers found it during excavations to expand the Cathedral museum.

According to Francesco Gurrieri, professor of Restoration of Monuments at the University of Florence, Persian dome builders used this building technique, but Brunelleschi was the first to introduce it into Europe when he worked at the dome.
Gurrieri notes that, while archaeologists cannot confirm that the small dome was the scale model for Brunelleschi’s plans, it did belong to the yard he created between AD1420 and 1436, when he worked on one the domes of Santa Maria del Fiore, which is the highest and widest masonry dome in the world.

For centuries, scholars have wondered how the Florentine architect could roof the huge octagonal of the Cathedral, which consists of 25,000 tons of stone, timber and brick. Brunelleschi won the right to build the dome by saying that he would not need any internal scaffolding.  He raised sandstone and marble slabs hundreds of feet into the air and constructed the huge masonry bubble without relying on a supporting wooden framework.

The Renaissance mastermind used complex techniques, still debated by researchers, and inventive brickwork that included creating a new way of sharing the weight around the dome to prevent collapse.  Laying the bricks in the herringbone pattern was a crucial element, as it allowed the bricks to convey the forces downward along the curving of the dome.

Brunelleschi and Florence have the most ties to the herringbone technique.  Outside the city, only a couple of examples of this technique exist, and they date later to the 16th century.  The small dome, which comprises bricks in a herringbone pattern, could prove to be the first example of a herringbone pattern structure in Europe.  Once it is fully excavated and restored, the mini-dome will be displayed permanently at the new museum set to open in October 2015.


Prehispanic Mexicans decorated their dead

Original Headline:  The Teotihuacans exhumed their dead and dignified them with make-up


Now we cross the Atlantic to Mexico, where a team of researchers has analyzed remains of cosmetics in urns in the graves of prehispanic civilizations that date between AD 200 and 500.  Cosmetic products occur only rarely in archaeological excavations in the Western Hemisphere.  These are the first on this continent analyzed in a serious and systematic way.  

In the case of the Teotihuacanos, cosmetics were part of the after-death ritual to honor their city's most important people.  At that time, people there periodically practiced a kind of remembrance worship of the deceased high nobility.  

The Teotihuacanos buried their dead underneath the floor of their homes, so in these rituals, the high priest of the city would conduct a ceremony in the dwellings of the nobility, princes, and kings.  The priest would go to a home and pay homage to the deceased with the family present. Researchers found the remains of carbon particles, leading to the belief that the priest may have burnt aromatic material and then painted parts of the body with those pigments.  In addition, the priest and possibly family members probably removed the body and redecorated it.  Furthermore, the make-up did not contain any agglutinative substance, an organic vehicle allowing make-up to stick to skin.  This fact suggests that the cosmetics had more of a symbolic than practical nature.

As well as providing more knowledge on the funerary rituals of this culture, the cosmetic remains help to identify the social significance of the buried individuals and prove the existence of commerce between the different areas of Mexico.  The scientists found material coming from the surroundings of Teotihuacan, such as pulverized volcanic rock pigments and other clay-like types typical of the area's geology.  At the same time, some remains, such as the mica and jarosite particles found, are not native to the surroundings.  The city’s people probably imported them from different parts of Mexico.

Nothing new under the volcano: wall posts point to social networks in Pompeii

Original Headline:  Pompeii 'Wall Posts' Reveal Ancient Social Networks


Finally, we go to Pompeii, where ancient residents revealed their social networks through graffiti on actual walls.  A new analysis of some of these scribbled messages reveals that the walls of the wealthy were highly sought after, especially for political candidates looking for votes.  The findings suggest that Pompeii homeowners may have had some control over who got artistic on their walls.

The belief had been that any candidate could have chosen any location and painted an ad on the wall.  After an examination of the contexts, this seems not very likely.  The owner of a private house controlled and maintained the front wall and even the street walks in front, and so the idea that just anyone could use the wall space seems unlikely.

Pompeii was a city of avid scribblers.  People scratched messages into the city's stucco walls or wrote them in charcoal.  They copied literary quotes, wrote greetings to friends and made notes of sums.  Wall scribblings were common all over the city, both on public buildings and inside and outside private homes.  

Amid all these amateur wall posts were political campaign ads.  Professional painters did most of these ad postings.  It was these posts that archaeologists focused on, mapping out each message and noting its context.  The researchers wanted to know where candidates put their messages and where certain candidates concentrated their campaigns.

To narrow down the enormous amount of graffiti, the researchers focused on three regions of the city: two residential areas on opposite sides of town and one business district.  More than 1,000 electoral messages graced the walls in these regions, most dating from the last three centuries of Pompeii's existence.

Most of the messages are simple, containing just a name and the office the person was campaigning for.  Sometimes they include some simple attributes such as 'a good man' and 'worthy of public office'.  One candidate even bragged about his bread-baking abilities on his campaign-wall post.  Groups supporting a particular candidate, including such unsavory fraternities as pickpockets, late-night drinkers and petty thieves, sponsored other ads.

The first find was that politicians wanted an audience.  The campaign ads were almost invariably on heavily trafficked streets.  The second, a more surprising discovery, was that the most popular spots for ads were private houses rather than bars or shops.  Approximately 40 percent of the ads were on prominent houses, which is notable because there were only a third as many lavish homes as there were bars, shops and more modest residences.  Clearly, candidates were vying for space on the homes of the wealthy.

That discovery makes researchers think the ads reveal an early form of social networking.  It seems likely that candidates would need permission from the homeowner to paint their ads.  Thus, we should consider the graffiti to be something of an endorsement.

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