Audio News for October 19th to October 26th

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from October 19th to October 26th.

Roman arena unearthed in German countryside

Our first story is from Germany, where archaeologists have discovered the remains of a Roman arena in a small Roman frontier town, suggesting that gladiators entertained the soldiers. This is the first time a forgotten arena has been discovered in Germany. The town where it was located was called Quintanis (kwin-TAN-is) during the time of the Roman Empire. It was a garrison on the Danube border, housing 500 soldiers. Archaeologists who excavated the oval area of postholes were surprised to realize they had found the remains of wooden grandstands that stood around the arena, which is a typical Roman amphitheater in shape. There are not many amphitheaters in the region. The stone amphitheater at Trier (tree-r), on the French-German border, is considered a major tourist attraction, but Trier was a major city and its various Roman buildings have been continuously used for 2000 years. The dig in Germany is set to continue into next year.

New debate on ancient Crete’s explosive end

Debate continues on whether the eruption of the Thera (THEER-a) volcano in the Aegean more than 3,000 years ago brought about the mysterious collapse of Minoan civilization. The volcanic isle, now known as Santorini, lies just 110 kilometers from Crete, so it has long seemed quite reasonable that its fury could have accounted for the fall of the civilization. In 1987, however, Danish scientists studying cores from the Greenland ice cap reported evidence that Thera (THEER-a) exploded in 1645 B.C., some 150 years before the accepted date of Crete's final collapse. Now, however, scientists are renewing support for the proposed connection. New findings show that Thera's (THEER-a’s) upheaval was far more violent than was previously calculated. Scientists say the volcanic outburst produced fatal waves and dense clouds of volcanic ash over a vast region, crippling ancient cities and fleets, setting off climate changes, ruining crops and sowing wide political unrest. One expert discovered direct damage from tidal waves that the eruption sent smashing into Crete. The towering waves were up to 15 meters high, about 50 feet, destroying ports and fleets and severely damaging the maritime economy. Other scientists found evidence for indirect, long-term damage. Ash and global cooling from the volcanic smoke cloud caused wide crop failures in the eastern Mediterranean, and the agricultural woes in turn set off political upheavals that collapsed Minoan alliances and trade. Researchers who link Thera (THEER-a ) to the Minoan decline say the evidence is still evolving and in some cases sketchy. Even so, they feel it is already compelling enough to have convinced many archaeologists, geologists and historians that the repercussions probably amounted to a slow death blow for Minoan Crete.

900-year-old ship surfaces in Indian rice field

In India, a sailing ship that experts believe sank off the southern coast 900 years ago has been found buried in a rice field. The ship is made of local Indian wood, but the craftsmanship is not local in style, leading experts to suggest that ancient Chinese, Japanese, Egyptians or Arabs built the ship. The government of southern Kerala (KA-re-la) state has excavated the 66-foot long, 15-foot wide vessel, after its discovery in a rice field by a coastal village. After centuries of land buildup, it was 150 feet deep and far inland. Workers tilling the field two years ago noticed some of its wooden planks protruding. The base of the ship is intact and excavations have unearthed many wooden portions, seven small wooden shelves, and different types of shells, pieces of ropes and bamboo from the vessel. Carbon dating on the ship's wood puts the ship’s age at about 920 years old.

Cedar revealed as mummy-making secret

Our final story is from Germany, where chemists may have verified that Herodotus and Pliny the Elder were right when they suggested ancient Egyptians used cedar oil to embalm their mummies. Some Egyptologists believed juniper was used, but there is no chemical evidence to back it up. Now scientists have identifed a sample of the actual embalming material as an extract of the cedar tree. The researchers reproduced an ancient treatment of cedar and found it contained a preservative called guaiacol (GWY-uh-col). The sample was entombed with a mummy dated to 1500 BC that was unearthed from Deir el-Bahari (day-EER el-BAH-ree) in Egypt. The embalming material was found next to the well-preserved mummy. The team used an analytical technique called gas chromatography to test the sample. They then tested the chemicals from the cedar compound on fresh pig ribs. Guaiacol (GWY-uh-col) had a strong antibacterial effect without damaging the tissue. The researchers also tested juniper extracts, but found they did not contain the preservative. Juniper trees are often confused with cedars, not only in ancient times, but also today. Confusion surrounding the name of the tree may explain why Pliny the Elder described the preservative as "cedar-juice" in his Naturalis Historia (nat-yur-A-lis his-TOR-ee-ah), the researchers say.

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