Audio News for August 9th to August 15th
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from August 9th to August 15th.
How a “Divine Wind” Altered the Course of History 700 Years Ago
In the 13th Century, when Japan refused to obey and pay tribute to the Mongolian ruler, Kublai Khan, it outraged the legendary ruler. Twice he sent massive fleets to invade Japan. Each time, Khan's aggression was repelled not by the Japanese military but by sudden storms that killed most of the invaders and destroyed their ships. The Japanese dubbed these storms kamikaze, or divine wind. That’s the myth. What really happened in the high seas more than 700 years ago? Archeologists have been trying for decades to confirm the specifics. From which direction did the kamikaze blow? How strong was it? More than seven centuries after the fact, Japanese archeologists are finally getting some answers. Artifacts uncovered in an expedition that ended last week tell more about the battles that took place off the coast of a tiny island 600 miles southwest of Tokyo. Excavations that started in the 1980s managed to uncover many ceramic jars used for containers. In recent years teams found Mongolian pottery-shelled bombs, swords, large anchors and a bowl with Chinese characters that belonged to a 100-man unit under a commander named Wang. In July, the team of scientists and divers worked on a site about 210 feet from shore and 40 feet below the surface. They found human skull parts, animal bones, and timbers from the ships and an anchor rope. It's hard to imagine that this lush green rural island was the site of two of the biggest and most devastating sea battles in history. Experts say that some 40,000 soldiers aboard 900 wooden ships attacked northern Kyushu (KYOO-shoo) in 1274 and killed virtually the island’s entire population. For an unknown reason, the fleet left after two weeks and was destroyed by the wind on its way back home. In the second invasion, in 1281, 140,000 soldiers arrived in 4,400 ships. When the typhoon hit the bay that summer, about 3,000 ships and 100,000 soldiers are believed to have vanished under the sea. Shinji Takano, archeologist with the Nagasaki Prefectural Board of Education, believes the fleet gathered in the bay to let the typhoon pass. A study of a Southern Sung dynasty military ship excavated in China, similar in design to the Mongolian ships, shows that a wind of 120 mph would have been enough to destroy them. Takano thinks that a huge typhoon wind blew from the south to the shore. "The bay was packed with their ships. They must have tied their ships to one another to stay together." The strong wind and high waves probably crushed them, and they sank. So far less than 1 percent of the battleground has been uncovered. With luck, we can expect a lot more details to unfold about the Mongolian invasion attempts.
Egypt Yields Find of Colossal Scale
In Egypt, the remains of a colossal seated statue of Ramses II, thought to be about 40 feet tall, has been discovered near of the Upper Egyptian city of Akhmim (AK-mim). The lower part of the limestone statue is seated on a throne, while on each side are figures of two of the pharaoh's daughters and princess/queens, Merit-Amun and Bint-Anath. The statue and the throne are carved from a single block and stand on a huge limestone base covered with carved hieroglyphic texts. The base also carries a register of captured enemies with rings that bear the name of their home cities. A colossal face that matches the base of the statue, showing the pharaoh wearing a false beard, has also been found. This is the largest seated limestone statue ever found of Pharaoh Ramses II," stated Zahi Hawass, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. Hawass said early studies revealed that the statue might have stood in front of the entrance to the pylon of a great temple of Ramses II at Akhmim (AK-mim), and that this suggested the existence of a second statue on the other side which could still be buried in the sand. First traces of the discovery were made in early 1991 when the Akhmim city council decided to build a post office 150 feet from the open-air museum. A pre-building archaeological inspection revealed the base of a statue inscribed with the names and titles of Ramses II and surrounded by mud brick walls. Also unearthed were votive stelae that had been set up in the temple, statues of individuals who may have worked there, and royal crowns carved in granite. It was actually illegal excavators exploring a tomb in the modern necropolis who stumbled upon a huge head of Ramses II. The head was 8 feet in diameter and was wearing the royal nemes headdress. The site lies on the east bank of the Nile about 60 miles north of Luxor. As well as being the hub of Egypt's ancient weaving industry, Akhmim was the capital of the ninth nome of Upper Egypt and the religious centre of the fertility god Min. The town yields remains dating from prehistoric times through the Pharaonic period, including an Old Kingdom cemetery, which contains 848 rock-hewn tombs. There are few data in Akhmim (AK-mim) about the Middle Kingdom, but rather more material remains from later periods of history. It is known that a great temple dedicated to the god Min was built during the ninth century BC -- the structure impressed Arab historians who passed through Akhmim and who mentioned a gigantic temple larger than the Karnak complex. One even reported that the sun had time to rise and then set again before he had finished exploring the ruins. Akhmim (AK-mim) was also a centre of Christianity in Upper Egypt. During the Christian era, temples were destroyed and the modern town was erected over the ancient ruins. Akhmim now perches on a high mound, with an archaeological wealth beneath its foundations, about to be further explored, with potentially significant results.
Tropical Storm Hastens Efforts to Learn More About the Civil War
In the United States, storms, high tide and rough surf are eroding way at some Civil War history at Folly Beach, South Carolina. Tides and surf from Tropical Storm Alex in early August removed several more feet from the tip of the island, where several Civil War battles were launched. Suddenly, historical remnants experts felt were safely buried on publicly owned property are in danger of being claimed by the sea. "There's a goodly amount of South Carolina history under those dunes," said Jon Leader, director of the S.C. Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology. The Civil War battle featured in the movie "Glory" was among several battles launched by Union troops from the north end of Folly Beach. Hurricane Hugo in 1989 uncovered Civil War artifacts near the back edge of Folly, and some archaeological work was done there then. The nearly 100-acre site was turned over to the state agencies several years ago. The state has begun the process of designating the land as a Heritage Trust site, giving the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources some control over the site. Chris Judge, the state agency's archaeologist, looked forward to staging formal digs at the site. In addition to Civil War history, the muck under the dunes could hold stone tools and other artifacts from thousands of years ago. Although some artifacts already have washed away, most of the sand lost in the past couple of years had built up since the 1960s. Tropical Storm Alex uncovered a roadbed built by the Coast Guard in the middle of the 1900s. If the erosion continues at its current rate, however, older sites that haven't been disturbed since Civil War times might be uncovered. Ideally, Leader said, an archaeological team would put together a project as soon as possible on the site. Experts say nothing can be done to stop the erosion. They aren't sure why, after about two decades of building up, the north end of Folly began to erode again.
11th Century Greek Signet Turns Up in Russia
Our final story is from Russia, where excavations in Novgorod, an affluent medieval center in Russia's northwest, have yielded a Greek lead signet. The face shows a representation St. Nicetas. A Greek text on the opposite side is in a bad state of preservation, and it will take time to decipher. Though found in the 13th century layer, archaeologists date the signet to the 11th century. Medieval Russians used similar signets to seal documents of essential importance. The latest finds in the site have included sixteen lead stamps, which experts call "minor seals," some with representations of saints or princely and grand-ducal coats-of-arms and some with no symbols or pictures at all. Historians theorize that medieval Russians used them to seal standard bunches of precious pelts, which served as monetary units. Sixteen is an extraordinarily large number of seals for one particular site. The most noteworthy finds at the site include eleven birch-bark manuscripts and close to twenty pendant seals for documents of importance. This season’s dig unearthed a number of finds approximately seven centuries old. Among the most valuable is a small metal icon of Russian origin. Its face represents St. Nicholas. The reverse is inscribed, "Nikola", in Cyrillic lettering. Another spectacular find is a lead document seal of Prince Mstislav son of Vladimir Monomachus, who reigned in Novgorod in the 12th century.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I’m Laura Kelley and I’ll see you next week!