Audio News for November 11th to November 17th, 2002

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Pettigrew
and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from
November 11th to November 17th.

Art and religion of Philistines revealed in secret cache


Our first story is from Jerusalem, where archaeologists have uncovered
an unparalleled find of Philistine ritual objects on the Coastal Plain.
The exact location is being kept secret to protect it from antiquities
robbers. Hundreds of ceramic ritual objects were found in the pit, which is being described as a repository for sacred objects. The significant
artifacts are vessels used in religious ceremonies and date to the 9th
and 10th centuries BC. Some have intricate inscriptions and red, black
and white geometric patterns. Some of the ceramic objects are intact,
and others can be restored. So far, the archeologists have found 13
cultic (KUL-tic) stands, which are extremely rare, with only two or
three having been discovered. They are believed to be symbols of houses
of the gods, perhaps being used to burn incense or hold idols. Other
objects include clay cups, apparently also used for incense, and male
and female figurines. Still other objects take the form of oxen, lions,
gazelles, and mythological beasts. All of the finds are important both
for their artistic significance and because of the light they shed on
the religious life of the Philistines, about whom little is known other
than from the perspective of the Bible.

Byzantine craft included earthquake resistant construction


From Istanbul, researchers have discovered a major reason the famous
Hagia Sophia (AUG-ee-uh so-FEE-ya) is still standing. Builders used
earthquake-proof cement in the construction of this sixth-century
monument, originally a Christian basilica and later an Islamic mosque.
An international team determined that the cement mixed to build the
huge, domed structure in A.D. 532 has a calcium silicate matrix similar
to that used in modern Portland cement. The architects deliberately
added volcanic ash or another silica that helps the cement absorb
seismic shocks. Many other buildings from this early Christian capital,
known as Constantinople (con-STAN-tin-OH-pal) and then Byzantium
(biz-ZANT-ee-um), have since succumbed to the earthquakes so common in
this region. Hagia Sophia (AUG-ee-uh so-FEE-ya), however, has withstood
quakes of up to 7.5 on the Richter scale, according to the team, which
is headed by Antonia Moropoulou (more-OP-uh-lou) from Athens' National
Technical University. "The Byzantians (biz-ZANT-ee-uns) knew exactly
what they were doing," one researcher said. "They were very advanced
scientists." The international team's work was reported in the New
Scientist. They hope the mix can be recreated to ensure faithful
restoration of the historic building.

Winner's version of ancient battle is carved in stone


From Greece, the fragments of a spectacular Roman monument
commemorating the sea victory over Antony and Cleopatra in 31 BC
promises to revolutionize our understanding of a moment that changed the Classical World forever. At a crucial moment in the Battle of Actium
(AC-tee-um), Cleopatra's flagship fled, and her fleet was annihilated by
the Roman forces led by Octavian, the nephew of Julius Caesar, better
known as the first Roman emperor, Augustus. This decisive sea victory
marked the end of 13 years of strife that followed Caesar's murder in 44
BC. During those years, Antony and Octavian had shared power to defeat
Brutus and Cassius, then parted, with Antony ruling in Egypt and
Octavian in Rome, and finally fought. After the battle, Cleopatra and
her lover Antony committed suicide, Rome incorporated Egypt into the
Empire, and Augustus began a long and prosperous reign as the first
Emperor. He commemorated his great victory with a monument set up at his
campsite on the hills above Actium, near the modern Greek city of
Preveza. The base of the complex was found some years ago, where the
rams from the vanquished galleys had been set into a terrace overlooking
the sea. Now, careful piecing together of nearly 15,000 fragments, along
with painstaking excavation, have found that three separate monuments
stood within a three-sided gallery or stoa (STO-uh). The central,
rectangular monument, records Octavian's triumph as a visual narrative.
Flanking it are two semicircular monuments, which may represent the
presence of the gods at the site. It seems likely, said one researcher,
that Octavian handled the delicate political problem of how to portray
this bloody civil war by emphasizing the more welcome notion, that the
battle of Actium was necessary to bring peace to the world. The relief
carvings in marble from quarries near Athens are of the highest artistic
standards, executed by Greek craftsmen but in Roman style. One exciting
surprise is a depiction of Octavian riding in his triumphal chariot
accompanied by the twin children of Antony and Cleopatra, who were named
Cleopatra Selene (se-LEE-na) and Alexander Helios (HEE-lee-os). The
later life and marriage of Cleopatra Selene is documented, but until now
no portrait of Cleopatra's son has ever been found. Many other important
Romans and foreigners are portrayed, and after they, too, are
identified, scholars look forward to the information on this "Who's Who"
of the first years of the Roman Empire.

More terra-cotta warriors rise from Chinese tombs


In eastern China's Jiangsu Province, archaeologists have unearthed 196
terra-cotta warriors dating back to the Han Dynasty, 206 BC to AD 220.
It is the largest discovery since 1984, when more than 2,000 terra-cotta
warriors were unearthed from four pits at Shizi Mountain in Xuzhou in
1984. A museum was then built on the site. A find of some thirty more
terra-cotta warriors last July led to further excavation in the ancient
tombs at Shizi Mountain. The 196 warriors in this find are
well-preserved and feature similar dress, with a long skirt and protective padding on the legs. The head, neckline, shoulders and the
lower hem of the skirt of some of the warriors are rough and vermilion
in color, a typical artistic style of the Han Dynasty. Some warriors had
their hair up in a knot, a hairstyle rarely seen on
previously-discovered terra-cotta warriors. The warriors measure 43 cm
in height and hold their arms in three different gestures, as if holding
three different kinds of weaponry. The newly-unearthed terra-cotta
warriors are facing in a different direction from those discovered
previously, leading scientists to believe that they were observing a
special funeral ritual, a researcher said.

Huge volcanic eruption gave rise to Biblical tales


A BBC documentary to be aired next month will present fresh evidence
that the Biblical plagues and the parting of the Red Sea were natural
events, not myths. Research suggests that a single natural disaster, a
huge volcanic eruption on the Greek island of Santorini
(SAN-tore-EE-nee) in the 16th century BC., accounts for the travails of
the Egyptians during the time of Moses. Many of the events surrounding
the exodus are the kinds of disaster phenomena that can be triggered by
an eruption of this size, which would have been a thousand times more
powerful than a nuclear bomb. Dr Daniel Stanley, an oceanographer who
has found volcanic debris in Egypt that he believes came from the
explosion, said "It would have been a frightening experience. It would
have been heard. The blast ash would have been felt." Climate models by
New York University researcher Mike Rampino show that the resulting ash
cloud could have plunged the area into darkness, as well as generating
lightning and hail, two of the 10 plagues. Drought, another plague,
would have been caused when the ash cloud reduced rainfall. Poisoning of
the Nile by the eruption's downfall could have turned it red, as
happened in a recent water pollution outbreak in the U.S. Current
scientific knowledge, as well as the computer modeling, shows that such
a huge disruption of a river ecosystem could easily have driven millions
of frogs on to the land, caused an explosion of flies and lice, and
precipitated disease outbreaks in cattle and humans, as described for
the other six plagues. The upcoming documentary argues that even the
story of the parting of the Red Sea, across which Moses led the Hebrews
to safety before the pursuing Egyptian army was drowned, may originate
in events caused by the eruption. It has long been suggested that the
Red Sea is a mistranslation of the "Sea of Reeds," that is, the vast
Nile delta marshlands the Hebrews had to cross. Computer simulations
show that the Santorini eruption could have triggered a 600-foot-high
tidal wave, travelling at about 400 miles an hour, which would have been
6 feet high and a hundred miles long when it reached the Nile delta. Such an event would have been remembered for generations, and may have
provided the inspiration for the story.

Ireland's Hill of Tara hides monumental history


From Ireland, archaeologists have reported the discovery of huge
monuments dating up to 4,500 years old, just below the surface of the
Hill of Tara, the traditional seat of the prehistoric kings of the
country. Geophysical mapping techniques have allowed archaeologists to
map the subsurface features under the hill, and finds have been both
extensive and exciting. "The hilltop would have been used over several
thousands years and the monuments range in date. Some could be
Neolithic, some could be Bronze Age and some could be Iron Age.
"What we have discovered are indications of intense occupation involving
ritual activity over a very long time," said Irish archaeologist Joe
Fenwick. Located northwest of Dublin, Tara was the focus of political
and religious life in pagan Ireland, but was largely abandoned by the
sixth century, after Ireland's patron saint, Saint Patrick, stood down
the druids there. Mythology gives Tara, the gaelic for lofty place, an
exalted status as the top royal site in Ireland. In the late 1990s, a
smaller survey of about five hectares on the northern end of Tara
discovered a major henge or temple, believed to be up to
4,500-years-old, that would have been similar to Britain's Stonehenge,
only made of timber.

That wraps up the news for this week!
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