Audio News for April 28th to May 4th,2003

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from April 28th to May 4th.

Sunken ship may be fabled Confederate ironclad


Our first story is from the United States, where a marine survey may have found the remains of the Virginia, a Confederate ironclad warship. The Virginia was built on a steam frigate, the Merrimack, abandoned by Union forces in the early days of the Civil War. The Confederates built their first ironclad ship on the Merrimack’s hull, renamed it The Virginia, and on March 8, 1862, sent it with spectacular success against the Union ships blockading a Confederate harbor. The CSS Virginia used her cannon balls to sink several ships and scatter the remainder with no damage to her own, iron-protected hull. However, the next day the Union's own ironclad, The Monitor, arrived. For four hours on March 9, 1862, the two ironclads fought the four-hour battle near Newport News that redefined naval warfare. Most historians consider the four-hour battle a draw. Two months after the battle, on May 11, 1862, the Virginia ran aground during the Confederate abandonment of Norfolk. After the crew was evacuated, the ship was set ablaze, igniting the 16,000 pounds of black powder in the ship's magazine. Documents show that salvage companies later removed two boilers and parts of the wooden hull. Several parts of the Virginia survive in museums, with dented armor plate and the ship's wheel at the Mariners' Museum, and an anchor and part of a propeller shaft at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond. Underwater survey for the proposed construction of a marine terminal has indicated two shipwrecks in the area where The Virginia was sunk, and there is "a distinct possibility" that they might be parts of the Virginia and of a schooner that hit the submerged wreck and sank next to it. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources has called for a follow-up investigation to decide if the wreck spotted in the survey is the Virginia. If it is, federal and state laws require that the ship's remains be removed before any dredging for the marine construction project can take place.


Welsh cavern is huge Bronze Age mine

On a peninsula in northern Wales, the largest prehistoric man-made cavern in the world may be hidden. Archaeologists excavating the 4,000-year-old site made their latest discovery 130 feet below ground in December and have estimated the cavern is at least 50 feet in length. The underground workings is part of a Bronze Age copper mine complex first uncovered in 1987 at Great Orme's (or-MAY's) Head. Archaeologists have previously cleared and recorded four miles of tunnels at the complex, which is the largest Bronze Age copper mine in the world and is open to the public. Surveys indicate there are about 10 miles of tunnels in the area. The largest known cavern before the latest one was discovered was 60 feet long, 25 feet high and 25 feet wide. Many layers of sediment have filled the ancient workings. The copper mined at Great Orme (or-MAY) by the ancient Britons would have been used to make axes and other implements. Research showed that, initially, the copper was mainly used to make tools other than weapons but, as time went on, more weapons were produced as people competed for food and land. Great Orme (or-MAY) Mines managing director Tony Hammond said it was "very, very early days" at present for reports on this latest discovery. Excavation was only carried out during the wintertime, when the mine was closed to the public, and work will not resume on the site until October.

Mormon cricket questions answered


Twelve thousand years ago in the Great Basin region of the United States, the hunter and gatherer families dined occasionally on their own form of fast food: Sun-dried grasshoppers, seasoned with lake salt. In certain seasons, 200 pounds of the insects could be collected in an hour along the shores of the Great Salt Lake. Munching a pound of the critters provided 1,365 calories of protein, slightly more than a pound of today's medium-fat beef, archeologists say. One of the best ways archeologists come to understand ancient people is determining what food they ate and how it was cooked. The most detailed and reliable answers to these questions are found in coprolites, dried or fossilized excrement material. In Great Salt Lake area coprolites, archeologists have found tiny seeds from the naturally growing local plants. The seeds were usually ground into flour and made into cakes. Berries, nuts and boiled bones from deer, antelope and even mammoth have been discovered. So have grasshopper legs. About 18 years ago, state archeologist David Madsen and his co-workers, working in a cave near the western edge of the Great Salt Lake, found grasshopper legs and other fragments on the cave floor and embedded in several layers of dirt underneath. Experts say that the use of insects as a food resource made a great deal of economic sense. After all, what would most people prefer: To fritter away weeks hunting down a mammoth; use up a day or two picking seeds and berries; or spend a single hour scooping up enough grasshoppers to equal the amount of protein found today in "87 chili dogs, 49 slices of pizza or 43 Big Macs."

Canopic jar contents uncorked


Our final story is from the England, where scientists are testing a jar thought to contain the vital organs of an ancient Egyptian mummy. Archaeologists at Birmingham University opened the funerary jar, dating from 1400 BC, and its contents were sent to pathologists at a nearby hospital for tests. Although many such canopic (can-OH-pic) jars have survived, including many found in place inside of tombs, few canopic jars still contain their original contents. In this jar, a tough, leathery material was discovered. The results of the testing are expected within a week. Experts in hieroglyphics determined that the remains were possibly those of somebody called Puia (POO-ee-ya) who died during the New Kingdom period, around 1400 BC. An initial scan showed there was something in the lower part of the jar. Medical experts have confirmed that the shape corresponds with liver or lungs. Typically, ancient Egyptian burial rituals used four canopic jars to hold sacred body parts removed during mummification - including the liver, lungs, intestine and stomach - and then entombed them with the person’s mummy.

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