Audio News for July 19th to July 25th

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from July 19th to July 25th.

Russians study fortress of a medieval warrior princess


In our first story, from northwest Russia, excavations at a ruined medieval fortress in Lubytino (LYEW-buh-TEE-no) are turning up finds more than a thousand years old.

The dig has turned up two battleaxe blades, a stock of knives, many glass beads and an unusual bronze buckle from a man's waist-belt. The site was the fortress of Princess Olga of Kiev, a powerful if small kingdom in the fertile heartlands of western Russia.

Olga was the consort of Prince Igor, and after his death became regent for her son. Later on, she helped rule while he was on his many military campaigns. The mid-10th century was a warlike age in Russia. Princess Olga directed raids on Luga (LOO-ga), Pskov (P-SKAWV) and other principalities in the region around Kiev.
Numerous potsherds found at the site appear to come from the vessels mediaeval Russian women made by hand, lacking potter's wheels.

Vladimir Konetsky is an assistant professor at Yaroslav the Wise State University, and supervises the excavations. He said the settlement was abandoned a mere twenty years -- thirty, at the most -- after it was built, so its rubbish layer is extremely thin. The artifacts being unearthed are all items that were discarded or lost.

The Lubytino (LYEW-buh-TEE-no) excavations started six years ago. A major part of the fortress has been thoroughly studied -- in particular, the rampart and a part of living quarters. The work will resume next summer.

Islamic necropolis discovered in Portugal


In central Portugal, archaeologists have discovered a large Islamic cemetery that may prove to be the largest in the Iberian peninsula.

So far 35 skeletons have been unearthed at the cemetery, which lies located 50 miles northeast of Lisbon at Santarem (san-tah-RAIM). Santarem (san-tah-RAIM) was the capital of an independent kingdom when the Muslims from North Africa occupied the peninsula in the 8th century A.D. No specific dates for the newly found necropolis have yet been announced.

Antonio Matias (mah-TEE-as), archaeologist in charge of the site, reports that it covered 36,000 square feet. The bodies were placed in tombs dug into the rock of the cliffs. Each body was laid out to point toward the holy city of Mecca and covered in a veil, following the Islamic burial tradition.

The largest necropolis previously found in the Iberian Peninsula is in Spain, where around 500 people are buried. Speculation is that Santarem (san-tah-RAIM) could be larger.

It still remains for the mosque to be found -- but Matias (mah-TEE-as) said, “we already have some idea where it is.”

Public-private partnership will study World War II wrecks in Gulf of Mexico


In the United States, an alliance is being formed with government, academia and business in what is being considered the world’s most comprehensive deepwater shipwreck study. The focus will be on seven vessels lost in the Gulf of Mexico during World War II.

One of those is the only German submarine known to have been sunk in the Gulf.
Researchers will spend 18 days to explore archaeological, historical and biological questions related to deepwater wrecks. Using a remotely operated vehicle more than a mile down, they hope to examine whether man-made structures like shipwrecks work as artificial reefs and how they effect the environment.

According to the Minerals Management Service, the U.S. government agency spearheading the project, the Gulf is the perfect location for such a laboratory. In 1942, German U-boats sank 56 ships in the Gulf, most within a few months of that year.

Among the wrecks to be studied is a cargo ship that went down in 6,500 feet of water; a passenger ship, The Robert E. Lee, which was torpedoed by the German submarine number U-166 on July 30, 1942; and the U-166 itself, which rests at 5,000 feet.

The submarine was discovered three years ago during a seafloor survey for an oil pipeline.

Syrian excavation sheds light on Roman soldiers' god


Our final story is from Syria, where an archaeological team from Poland may shed light on the ancient cult of Mithra (MYTH-ra).

Mithraism (MYTH-ray-ism) flourished during the early Roman Empire, and with its emphasis on duty, sacrifice, and securing eternal life through courageous death, it was particularly widespread among Rome's army troops. Evidence of the faith have been discovered in Roman areas in Europe, Britain and even Asia. Archaeologists and historians surmised the cult was born in the Middle East, that it had its roots in the Zoroastrian (ZOAR-oh-AST-ree-an) religion of Persia and only later spread to Europe. But a major archaeological discovery of a cave in Syria seems to suggest the opposite.

In the middle of the Syrian desert, a few years ago a Polish excavation team unearthed a cave from underneath a Byzantine church. Its walls were covered with paintings dating to the Roman period -- paintings with strong Mithraic (MYTH-ray-ic) symbolism, such as a god cutting the throat of a bull, monsters being defeated by a ray of light, and lions protecting the entrance to the temple.

These paintings appear to validate the theory that the cult of the god Mithra existed in the Syrian desert.

The Polish team’s leader says this early example of Mithra’s worship in the Middle East contradicts a linkage to the Zoroastrianism. He discussed the find recently in a lecture at the American University of Beirut's Museum of Archaeology.

Mithra is always represented as a young male who is cutting the throat of a bull

The worship of this brave god was very popular with Roman soldiers, who in turn spread it into all corners of the Roman Empire. Paintings illustrating the young god Mithra cutting the throat of a bull were found in many cities and districts of the empire.
But what this cult preached, exactly, is unknown. The Mithraic religion was secret. A complete lack of any texts describing its rituals and exact beliefs has placed this cult among the great unknowns of history. The paintings covering the walls of the recently found temple in the cave confirm the few bits of knowledge about some of the practices of this religion.

Stairs are carved into the entrance of the cave to lead into the main cell, where a feast was typically celebrated. Oil lamps would have been used to provide light for the congregation, who dined along the long seat which was carved inside the cave. This sitting area served for food sharing, while worshippers could study the paintings of Mithra’s life. Chicken, mutton and pork were served during the gatherings, which were hosted by a priest who would tell the story of the god by explaining the mural paintings

The paintings preserved in this cave suffered partial destruction in the 5th or 6th centuries due to the construction of the Byzantine church just above. After the adoption of Christianity as religion of the Roman Empire, all other cults and religions were banned and their cells destroyed.

That wraps up the news for this week! For more stories and daily news updates, visit Archaeologica on the World Wide Web at , where all the news is history!

I’m Laura Pettigrew and I’ll see you next week!