Audio News for May 26th to June 1st, 2003

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from May 26th to June 1st.


Looting of Iraqi sites continues


Our first story is an update from Iraq. According to the New York Times, Iraqi officials say that they asked Coalition leaders as early as a month ago to help protect major archaeological sites from looters. For the most part, their pleas were ignored and artwork and relics from ancient Babylon are still being stolen from many sites. Coalition officials said they have taken care to protect Babylon and a handful of other ruins from looters. But they also made it clear in the last few days that protecting archaeological treasures was only one of many priorities, and not the top one. They labeled the problem as primarily an Iraqi responsibility. Leaders for the Coalition forces say they are ready to arm, train and even pay Iraqis to guard the sites. Iraqis involved with the archaeological sites say they have heard no such offer. The problem reflects the broader absence of law, and law enforcement, that gave rise to looting of all types. Iraq has virtually no courts and only a fledgling police force, which means that power often resides with those who control the most weapons. On a recent visit by media, three sites near Samawa (SAM-a-wah) were pocked with freshly dug holes and littered with shovels, indicating looting in the last day or two. At one spot, about two dozen people ran off when they saw approaching trucks. At the site of the ancient city of Isin (I-zen) to the north, more than 100 looters were openly digging out and selling urns, sculptures and cuneiform tablets. The plundering of Iraqi archaeological sites is the second major wave of culture theft since the toppling of the government of Hussein in early April. The archaeological lootings could amount to even larger losses over time. Archaeologists say the sites have been so disrupted that systematic historical research there may now be impossible. The looting of archaeological sites, if unchecked, could prove far more devastating. At least a dozen major sites are believed to be under siege, with looters in some locations extracting more in two weeks than archaeologists had unearthed in two decades. Locals on the roadside are one of the middle links in a global network of plundering that is rapidly depleting the immense reserves of ancient art and historical data that lie buried in cities that once made up the Babylonian and Sumerian empires. The people who live near the big archaeological sites in southern Iraq                    became so poor under the Hussein regime that they are grasping at any means to make money. The Iraqi police force, which disintegrated at the end of the war, is not only powerless but also afraid to stop the heavily armed groups that now prowl over dozens of sites. American soldiers are generally too occupied with reducing street crime and restoring basic services like electricity to pay much attention.

Greek site holds temple to Egyptian gods


In Greece, years of research and excavation have shown that a building in the Asclepium (a-SKLE-pee-um) of Epidaurus (EP-i-DOR-us), was the temple of the Egyptian deities. In a dig conducted in 1892, the building was identified as the meeting area, based on finds of ceramic artifacts bearing the name of Antoninus. There was also a remark by an ancient historian that the building had been repaired by Senator Antoninus. But the building showed no signs of later work of Roman construction, and experts believed it might be a temple of the Egyptian gods. During recent cleaning at Epidaurus (EP-i-DOR-us), this theory was proved out. The second-century AD building is located northeast of the entrance of the Gymnasium, which was the temple of Asclepius (a-SKLE-pee-us), Apollo and Hygeia (hi-JEE-a), three deities associated with the Egyptian deities Osiris, Isis and Arpocrates. In this era, cults of various deities were brought from Egypt to Greece, and there was a strong element of co-worship, especially in the eastern regions. The diffusion of Egyptian cults in Greece was significant during the imperial age, though it started during the Hellenistic period. Among the finds are a large hall with a hearth, the bases of three statues (the three divinities), a table and desks that initiates could sit at. Blood from sacrifices was found in front of a drain and a hypostyle room where the participants presumably gathered after their initiation. Researchers propose conserving the walls and restoring the columns. The restoration will employ 85 percent authentic material and 15 percent new limestone similar to the original. In the same session, the Greek Archaeology Department also approved a study for the restoration of the pre-Roman baths at the Asclepium (a-SKLE-pee-um) of Epidaurus (EP-i-DOR-us).

Oklahoma team to investigate “The Buried City”


In the United States, the University of Oklahoma will send a team to "The Buried City" in Ochiltree County to conduct another excavation in a class for advanced fieldwork in August. The group will attempt to establish a political link with another nearby site.  Such a political link would be established, for example, if the people of the two sites were shown to be the same ethnic group. This is revealed by similarities in pottery designs and types of houses in the two villages. According to a university news release, although archaeological investigations of the Buried City began about 100 years ago, many basic questions surrounding these important sites remain unanswered. The field school will examine the unresolved issues, including the chronological relationship of pit houses and surface stone structures, and the origin and relationship of the Buried City to surrounding Plains Villagers. A graduate student already has visited the site and located some pit houses with a proton magnetometer. The excavation team will comprise between five and 15 students. Scientists at the Oklahoma site also have studied some bell-shaped storage pits thought to be used for food. "The Buried City" is the term given in 1907 by T.J. Eyerley, professor of the Canadian Academy, to the Indian ruins clustered among Wolf Creek in Ochiltree County. The unique complex of sites reflects an occupation from about A.D. 1100 to 1450.

Original Headline: Tiberias archaeological digs uncover the remains of 12th century Crusader fortress


Our final story is from Israel, where digs in the old city of Tiberias (ti-BER-ee-us) have revealed the extraordinary remains of the gate and wall of the city's 12th century Crusader fortress. The research is underway along the Lake Kinneret (KIN-ner-et) promenade. One of the posts of the gate that has been uncovered shows a portion of a superbly decorated crossbeam. The beam, which originated from a public building from the Roman era, was incorporated into the fort to beautify the gate. The wall of the fortress is constructed of large basalt stones measuring 10 feet at its widest point, the widest ever uncovered in Tiberius (ti-BER-ee-us). Portions of the wall are also believed to have come from a public structure from the Roman era. The well-preserved condition of the gate makes it possible to uncover the structure in its entirety. On July 2, 1187, Salah a-Din (sa-LAH a DIN) and his army overwhelmed the Tiberias (ti-BER-ee-us) fortress. The Crusaders who got word of the siege left for the city to free their comrades. On July 4, on the way to Tiberias (ti-BER-ee-us), Salah a-Din's (sa-LAH a DIN) forces attacked the Crusaders. The ensuing battle resulted in victory for Salah a-Din’s forces.  This battle is thought to have determined the fate of the Land of Israel: Had the Muslims been defeated, the entire region may very well have remained until today under Christian and European rule.

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