Audio News for August 19th to August 25th, 2002.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from August 19th through August 25th.
Underwater mystery solved with Roman ship's discovery
In our first story, the riddle of why an officially flat seabed had snagged fisherman's nets year after year has finally been solved. The underwater obstacle off the Tuscan island of Elba is a 2,000 year old Roman ship, found apparently perfectly preserved on the Mediterranean seabed. At a depth of 210 feet, divers filmed the signs of the wreck, a series of nine large half-buried ceramic containers, each known as a dolium. A dolium - the plural is dolia - is a pottery vessel, more like a tank than an amphora used in Classical times to ship bulk cargo such as grain or wine. This is the first time that a number of intact doliums has been discovered in the Mediterranean. The size of the doliums - each around six feet high and 15 feet in diameter - has led experts to put the length of the boat at around 66 feet. Their position suggests that the still-hidden ship is perfectly preserved beneath the mud. Furthermore, the depth of the ship means it has probably not been disturbed by wreck-robbers. The ship is currently under a meter of sediments, but experts hope that once excavation starts, it will provide a wealth of information. With the advanced technology available today, the ship can be thoroughly uncovered and detailed research carried out underwater.
Balkan alabaster box dated to 4th century
In Bulgaria, an alabaster box containing the bones of a saint was found during excavations in an Episcopal basilica of Odessos, during floor restorations by Bulgarian and French archaeologists. In the southeastern part of the central nave of the basilica, where the altar stood, a chamber had been covered by the base of an ancient pillar. The chamber, constructed of brick, contained a unique stone sarcophagus where the alabaster box lay. The find was dated to the 4th century and is well preserved. According to experts, similar finds dating from the Early Christian Era are very rare. This is the third find of this kind in Varna.
How CAT scans reveal the inner artifact
In the United States, scientists at the Smithsonian Institution are using a CAT scanner to look inside all sorts of things without damaging them, exactly as medical professionals use them to diagnose people. The scanner located at the National Museum of Natural History has looked into the unique construction of a Stradivarius violin to see what makes its exceptional sound and has now been used to study Inuit mummies. It uses a circling X-ray beam to create cross-sectional views inside materials. Bruno Frohlich, an anthropologist who has spent years studying the Inuit, has been able to date the mummies and determine some of the diseases they had. The findings show that the Inuit did not quickly discard their religious practices when Russian missionaries arrived. Some historians had believed that the Inuit were rapidly converted, but Frohlich found some mummies, prepared according to religious practice, with signs of diseases like smallpox and syphilis that were introduced by the Russians. Frohlich has found evidence that mummies were still being created into the 20th century.
New document aids research on Inca
Peru, an unpublished 19th-century manuscript rescued by a collector contains portrayals of Inca rulers that clear up centuries-old questions. A direct descendant of the last Inca of royal stock wrote the manuscript, titled "Memories of the Peruvian Monarchy or Outline of Inca History," in 1838. The author was born in 1775 to a noble Indian family, and illustrated his manuscript with watercolor portraits of the 17 Inca rulers, including his own. According to Peruvian historian Javier Flores Espinoza, who has conducted a preliminary study of the work, "Many doubts remained as to what the Incas looked like. We only had more or less reliable descriptions in some historical accounts, but now we know how they wanted to be portrayed." The account traces the history of the Inca people from the empire through the European conquest and colonial period to the beginnings of the republic. The four-part text shows the Inca with dark skin and soft features. Each sovereign appears inside a border wearing the traditional feathered crown and colorful cloak and carrying the royal scepter. The 19th-century manuscript was stolen from Peru's National Library during the 1879 Pacific War with Chile and sold to a collector.
Archaeological find adds years to Fiji's history
Our final story is from the archipelago of Fiji, where the discovery of a skeleton on a island has fuelled speculation that the first people arrived 3,000 years ago, which is 500 years earlier than previously thought. Geoscientists from the University of Arizona and 15 University of the South Pacific geography students unearthed a six-foot skeleton that is believed to be of Solomon Islands origin. It was found under 24 inches of sand and silty clay. The students also found stone tools, shellfish and pottery shards featuring some of the most intricate designs typical of the Lapita people, the first settlers of the Pacific, around the remains. The body was buried lying east-west, with his head to the west, his feet to the east, in a common burial practice for ancient skeletons in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. Experts believe this represents a burial of Lapita age dating to between 1,000 BC and 800 BC. If correct, this will be only the second skeleton from that era ever found in the Pacific. Samples from the skeleton will be sent to New Zealand for radiocarbon dating. The results, which could verify the estimated age of the male skeleton as 3,000 years before present, are expected by year end.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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