Audio News for June 17th to June 23rd, 2002.

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Claire Britton-Warren and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from June 17th through June 23rd. 



World's Oldest Boat Found in Middle Eastern Desert



Our first story is from the Kuwaiti desert where a boat, built 7,000 years ago out of tarry, bitumen-covered slabs, has been found in this unusual place. If the evaluation of archaeologists is correct, the slabs, warehoused in a stone building at the site called As-Sabiyah, would push back the date for the oldest known boat by more than 2,000 years. The expedition's field director, Robert Carter, believes that the slabs belonged to a boat, because each has reed impressions on one side and barnacles on the other. Bitumen is a naturally occurring asphalt like substance that made the boats watertight. Crushed and mixed with fish oil and coral, it is still used today by some Middle Eastern boat builders. The early vessels it was used on were constructed out of reed bundles tied together with ropes and string. Carter believes that the bitumen-covered reed boats were used to carry people and goods between Mesopotamia, As-Sabiyah, and the Central Gulf region. If this theory is correct, it could explain why ancient Mesopotamian pottery often turns up many miles to the south on the Persian Gulf's western shores. The current “oldest boat” record-holder is a vessel found in an Egyptian tomb dating to 3,000 BC. Evidence for log canoes, thought to be more like rafts than boats, goes back to 8,000 BC. The age of the whole As-Sabiyah site, including the boat remains, has been carbon-14 dated to 5,511-5,324 BC.



First-century Roman Stadium Found in Israel



In Israel, archaeologists have discovered the remains of a Roman stadium dating to the first century AD. Uncovered near Tiberias, the building’s style, with rough stone construction and a rounded southern end, date it to the Roman period and most likely identify it as one of the structures written about by the ancient historian Flavius Josephus.  Experts believe boat races and water war games were held in one section of the stadium during a later period, possibly the third century, because of signs of mud that were found there. Other buildings from various periods, including those of the Byzantines, early Arabs, and Fatimids, have also been uncovered. The dig has provided evidence of two geological events that caused the collapse of the western side of the structure. Because of the disturbances, walls fell or were uprooted. Once of these events was probably the earthquake of AD 749, which destroyed many settlements in the country. The Antiquities Authority is working to preserve the site and combine it with a hotel being built there.



US to Toughen Looting Laws



In the United States, Congress is preparing tougher penalties for damage to cultural sites and tighter laws to prosecute looters.  According to authorities, the stolen antiquities market has become so profitable that it now ranks right behind drugs, guns and money laundering in criminal income sources. Less than 10 years ago, looters, if they were caught, were given an insignificant punishment. And that was if the case was pursued at all. Currently these crimes are treated as a property crime for the purpose of punishment, but with a shift in public opinion, more people willing to report such crimes, and more juries willing to convict, the new laws should be passed by November.  “It's a different type of challenge than, say, narcotics," says a Forest Service agent. "In those ... cases, it's illegal to possess cocaine. However, pots are not illegal to possess. So you have to catch people in the act of stealing them." Arizona and New Mexico have about 55,000 sites on 21 million acres of land with only 45 patrol officers. This is why public commitment is critical in preservation. The interagency Site Steward program, which began in Arizona and has spread to other states, is one effort that is underway. Volunteers check sites and report to law enforcement.



Construction Stumbles on Palace of Medieval Cyprus



From Cyprus, in the capital of Nicosia, workers accidentally found the remains of an 800-year-old medieval Lusignan palace. The location of this palace has been a mystery for centuries. Although little is known about the size of the structure, the stonewalls are more than 3 feet thick and more than 9 feet high in some places. Built in 1211, it was destroyed in about 1373 in battles with Genoese armies. Additional artifacts of pottery and wall paintings have also been found. The Lusignans were a French family that ruled Cyprus from 1192 to 1489. The island is rich in artifacts from the ancient Greek and Roman periods, but lacking in the medieval era. Its medieval history was a cycle of raids by Arabs and the crusading English King Richard I, who gave Cyprus to the Lusignans.



Early Highlands History Confirmed in Stirling Castle



In Scotland, the discovery a Dark Age fort appears to be proving that Stirling is the lost capital of the warlords. Workers have uncovered a 1,500-year old cliff top citadel dating to between AD 500 and 780.  The discoveries of entrances, stonewalls and battlements is providing evidence that Stirling was one of Scotland's most critical centers during the Dark Ages. The fortress overlooks the site where Scots King Kenneth MacAlpine defeated the Picts in AD 843, thereby establishing modern Scotland. William "Braveheart" Wallace also may have used it as he watched, from its ruins, the approach of the English army before his victory at Stirling Bridge. Along with rubble from the nearby Wallace monument, ramparts laced with timber and clear evidence of two entrances have been revealed. Only a small section of the area was fully excavated. Experts expect further exploration will reveal additional support for their claims.



Two-thousand-year-old Pottery Menagerie Goes To Ground



Our final story is from China where almost 1,000 pieces of ancient ceramic animals will be reburied for preservation. Experts at the Hanyang Mausoleum Museum stated the colors of the figurines, which are two millennia old, are fading away because there is not an effective way to preserve them. The statues will be buried again in the Hanyang Mausoleum in Shaanxi Province. The Hanyang Mausoleum, 20 miles north of Xi'an, capital of the province, is the tomb of the fourth emperor Liu Qi and his queen in Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24), and is the most complete mausoleum from this dynasty ever discovered. The tomb was opened to tourists three years ago. Now, however, it will be filled in to preserve the ancient collection.  Though measures to keep colors of the figurines in Qin Dynasty (221 BC-207 BC) have been effective, they were found to be of no use in treating the paints used in the following Han dynasty.



That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Claire Britton-Warren and I'll see you next week!