Audio News for November 24th to November 30rd

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from November 24th to November 30th.

Roman ruins soon to be paved over

Our first story is from Italy where archaeologists are frustrated after learning that a car park is to be built on excavations that have yielded some of the most impressive mosaics ever found under Rome. Work at the site uncovered the remains of an imperial river port where goods arriving from Ostia (OS-ti-a) on the coast were unloaded and stored. Italian archaeologists found traces of warehouses, workshops and offices, along with coins, lamps and amphorae used to transport oil, wine and a popular ancient fish-based sauce. The archaeologist in charge of the dig said the mosaics appeared to be from the early 4th century in what may have been an area of thermal baths. The biggest mosaic, 30 feet by 30 feet, depicts mythical sea creatures. Another shows a lion's head with a human-like face, surrounded by fish. Only the third mosaic, with a geometric design, will be visible in future. It has been stored until it can be displayed in a museum. The others are to be plastered over and covered by the car park. Experts say that it is preferred is to bury them rather than leave them exposed and not properly cared for. The port is known to have been part of a network of sites on the Tiber, which handled a vast traffic of barges delivering imported goods to ancient Rome. Each seems to have had a specialty. One took in oil from Spain; another handled wine, a third building materials. By the time the port was built, the main harbor was Portus (POR-tus), near Ostia (OS-ti-a). Much of that is buried under an airport.

North American map could have been available to Columbus

In the United States, the latest scientific scrutiny of a disputed map of the medieval New World supports the theory that it was made 50 years before Christopher Columbus set sail. The study examined the ink used to draw the Vinland Map, which belongs to Yale University. The map is monetarily highly valued - if it is real and not a clever, modern-day forgery. An earlier study said the ink on the parchment map was made in the 20th century, but chemist Jacqueline Olin said this week her analysis showed the ink was made in medieval times and that there is no evidence this is forged titanium dioxide ink. The authenticity of the map has been debated since the 1960s when philanthropist Paul Mellon gave it to Yale. The map depicts the world, including the North Atlantic coast of North America. It includes text in Medieval Latin and a legend that describes how Leif Eiriksson, a Norseman, found the new land called Vinland around the year 1000. Scholars have dated the map to about 1440 and some have speculated Columbus could have used it to find the New World in 1492.

Treating terracotta warriors may preserve true colors

In 1974, archaeologists unearthed a vast army numbering in the thousands in China. The soldiers were made of terracotta and they were part of the mausoleum of the first Chinese emperor. So far, more than 1,500 life-size warriors have been excavated. But once the figures are removed from the pits, their pigment fades, sometimes within minutes of exposure--a problem that established technology has failed to address. Now a novel technique may help the soldiers retain their color. Traditional lacquer coating cracks and falls off with decreased humidity. The new process uses an organic monomer, a common chemical used to produce plastics. They treated the excavated terracotta pieces with the chemical, which is water-soluble and can penetrate the wet surface. The figures have been housed in damp soil for the past 2,000 years. When the pieces are then exposed to radiation that penetrates the overlying lacquer layer but not the terracotta itself, the molecules join to form long chains of polymers in a process known as curing. The polymer compound is stable and does not affect the pigments. New excavations continue to unearth additional archaeological treasures at the site. The researchers note that some details of their method remain to be worked out, but its success so far suggests that it could soon become the method of choice for conserving the terracotta army.
40 Revolutionary War gunboat site found
In the United States divers searching Lake Champlain have uncovered evidence of a Revolutionary War naval battle between Benedict Arnold's American fleet and a British armada, including a depression in the lake bottom that shows where the gunboat Philadelphia came to rest when it sank after the battle. Researchers have been conducting a survey of a site near Valcour Island for the past several years and have found a significant amount of artifacts and debris from the Oct. 11, 1776 Battle of Valcour. The resting place of the gunboat find adds to the emerging archaeological map of how the battle took place. The Philadelphia, perhaps the best-known vessel from the battle, was found and raised in 1935 and is now on display at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. One of the lead divers on the project had been reading about the Philadelphia and developed an interest in finding the spot. The museum had also received some footage from the 1935 salvage efforts that gave searchers an approximate location of its resting place. Connecting those two tools helped researchers find where the ship went down. Research at the battle site had been focused on the American line of vessels, but divers have also begun looking at where British ships were during the action. The findings will help provide a clearer interpretation of what is considered to be one of the most significant battles in the American Revolution. Though the Americans lost the battle, their efforts delayed the British invasion from Canada, helping American forces regroup and defeat the British at Saratoga the following summer. There is no set completion date for the research, which is being funded through grants.

Headless king may soon be unearthed

Our final story is from England where a church court was asked permission to open a medieval tomb that may conceivably contain the bones of King Harold, last Anglo-Saxon ruler of England. Archaeologists want to dig out the tomb, which is in an unmarked grave under the chancel arch of Holy Trinity Church at Bosham, West Sussex, on the off chance that the remains inside belong to Harold, famously killed along the coast at the battle of Hastings in 1066. If the bones are recovered they will be tested for DNA samples, which will be compared with those from three people who claim to be descended from the king. The tomb was first uncovered in 1954 and found to contain a decorated coffin with a headless body. Many historians believe Harold's body was taken to Waltham Abbey in Essex by the Norman conquerors in secrecy so that his tomb did not become a site of pilgrimage. The church at Bosham is believed to contain one other near-contemporary royal tomb, that of King Canute's daughter. The Chancellor of the diocese, is expected to give his written findings at a later date.

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