Audio News for April 26th to May 2nd

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from April 26th to May 2nd.

Computer helps restore ancient Rome


In our first story from Italy, the Stanford University has made progress in piecing together a map of Rome, known as the Forma Urbis Romae (forma OOR-bis ROME-eye). The marble map was originally carved in stone slabs about AD 210. Altogether, it measured 54 feet by 42 feet. For centuries, it hung in the Templum Pacis (TEM-plum PACK-us) , one of the ancient city's major public landmarks. Then, during the destruction of the later years, it was broken into fragments. So complicated is the jumble of parts that for decades the map pieces have been referred to as "the biggest jigsaw in the world". Every few years, a researcher has suggested a match between two pieces. A Stanford University computer program is now being used to aid restoration. The program, designed by Stanford's Dr David Koller, has found seven high-probability matches so far, and a host of other possibilities. With the new computer analysis, experts are predicting a huge expansion in knowledge of the map and a new insight into ancient Rome. The Forma Urbis (forma OOR-bis ) showed almost every feature of the city from the Coliseum and the Circus Maximus, where the chariot races took place, down to individual shops and even the stairways up and down the streets among the legendary seven hills of Rome. But shortly after the fall of the Empire, the lower part of the map was torn from the wall, probably to be burned in kilns to make lime for cement. It may have lain for centuries as just a heap of jumbled fragments, occasionally plundered for other building works. During the Renaissance, some recognized its importance, but the pieces continued to be dispersed. The map will never be fully recovered; no more than 15% of it survives and that is in 1,186 pieces, one expert states. But if the surviving pieces can be reassembled, much knowledge of the ancient classical capital will be restored with it.

Vandals assault Peru's famous Inca Stone


In Peru, vandals have damaged the nation's famous 12-cornered Inca stone in the Andean city of Cuzco (KOOS-koh) by scarring it with a sharp metal object. The stone has a scar, which is 6 inches long and 2 inches wide and is marked with seven small holes. The stone cannot be repaired because officials were unable to find the shards the vandals chopped off. The large gray stone, a product of Inca craftsmanship thought to have energizing properties, is part of an outside wall in the palace of Cuzco's (KOOS-koh ) archbishop and is on permanent display, unprotected by glass or plastic. Hundreds of visitors come every day to gaze at the awesomely precision-cut giant blocks of rock in the wall, displaying the engineering skill that was the Incas' trademark. Before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s, the 12-cornered stone was part of a palace built by the Incas. The attack on the stone is not the first time Peru's fragile heritage has come under strain. Vandals have damaged some of Peru's mysterious Nazca lines, and a crane chipped a stone sun clock at the fabled Inca citadel of Machu Picchu near Cusco (KOOS-koh) during the filming of a beer commercial in 2000.

Egyptologists unbury a cache of 50 mummies


In Egypt, more than 50 new mummies in wooden coffins dating back to the 7th Century B.C. have been unearthed at the Giza (GEE-za) Pyramids near Cairo. A French/Egyptian archeological team making the discovery noted some of the mummies, wrapped in linen and sealed inside stone or wooden sarcophagi, are in an excellent state of preservation for the period. The team opened one of the coffins and found a "perfectly wrapped mummy." They were found in the ancient desert of Sakkara near the Great Pyramids of Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo. At the site, Egyptians had used the network of shafts and corridors over several centuries, starting from the 26th dynasty (664-525 BC) and continuing into the Ptolemaic period, which ended with the death of Cleopatra in 30 BC. The Secretary General of the Egyptian Higher Council of Archeology, Zahi Hawas, said the new discovery would provide greater understanding of the old Egyptian religious beliefs during the 26th Dynasty of the Pharaohs, which ruled in the 7th Century BC. The archeological team will open another coffin this week that has a human face engraved on it.

Ancient Persian tablets record everyday affairs


Our final story starts back in 1933, when University of Chicago archeologists discovered thousands of ancient clay tablets in the ruins of what once was the Persian Empire. Many of those tablets have now been translated and 300 of them will soon be heading back home to Iran. The tablets tell the story, not of royalty, but of the average citizen. The clay tablets are covered with cuneiform writing. After their discovery in Persepolis, which was the capitol of the Persian Empire 2500 years ago, they were loaned to the institute in 1937 for translation. The stories on 300 tablets now being published are not about kings and queens, however, or conquering other countries. They're all about real men, real women and the working class. In a language called Elamite (EE-la-MITE ) the writing tells what people were being paid. There were huge differences in this ancient society, which was already stratified and class-structured. The translation shows that the bottom of the social scale was getting pretty skimpy rations. A quart of barley a day, a quart and a half of barley a day and about half a quart of wine. The people at the top of the social scale were getting hundreds of times that. The pay records not only reflect differences based on social class, but also between men and women. If a woman has just given birth to children she gets an extra ration. If it's a boy she has given birth to she gets double the ration than if she has given birth to a girl. There are still thousands of tablets to translate. The work has just begun.

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