Audio News for January 10th to January 16th

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from January 10th to January 16th, 2005.

Star atlas found in statue

In our first story an ancient atlas of stars lost for centuries was unveiled last week at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society. Hidden in plain sight for centuries, the star atlas was found on a statue of Atlas in Italy's National Museum of Archaeology in Naples. The statue is a 7-foot-tall marble statue and depicts one of the titans of Greek mythology, Atlas, holding a 2-foot-wide globe on his shoulders. The sphere is covered with 41 star constellations, from Aries to Andromeda. According to Bradley Schaefer, an astronomer at Louisiana State University, inscribed on the statue is the lost star catalogue of Hipparchus, one of the great Greek astronomers who lived in the second century B.C. No copies of the atlas, a standard reference for ancient astronomers, exist today. The only evidence for it came from references made to it by astronomers who followed Hipparchus. Star positions on the statue date to 150 B.C. and match those mentioned in a surviving book of commentary written by the ancient astronomer. The link between the statue and Hipparchus was suspected by art historians, but Schaefer was the first to plot the constellations on the stone globe.

British Museum: US military damaged Babylon

In our next story, a report by the British Museum states that U.S. and Polish forces that used Iraq's ancient city of Babylon as a military base caused "substantial damage" to the area. The report said military vehicles crushed 2,600-year-old pavement in the city, a cradle of civilization and home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Archeological fragments were used to fill sandbags. Large areas of the site were covered in gravel brought in from outside which was compacted and sometimes chemically treated to make helipads and car parks. U.S. military commanders set up a base in Babylon in April 2003, just after the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, and handed it over to a Polish-led force five months later. Poland said it decided to remove troops from the area when Warsaw realized having a military base there was not "beneficial to the site." The camp was to be handed over to the Iraqi Culture Ministry on Saturday. According to a spokesman for Polish-led forces they have moved their operations from Camp Babylon and returned that site to the Iraqi people and to scientists because of its importance, not only to Iraq, but also to the world's cultural heritage. Babylon was the capital of ancient Babylonia, a kingdom that flourished between 1,800 and 540 BC. Its Hanging Gardens were one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Iraqi officials run the main features, the site of the Ishtar Gate, the ruins of Babylon and the Nebuchadnezzar Palace, as an archeological park. Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said all engineering works were discussed with the head of the Babylon museum. "An archeologist examined every construction initiative for its impact on historical ruins," he said. John Curtis of the British Museum called it “tantamount to establishing a military camp around the Great Pyramid in Egypt or around Stonehenge in Britain," Curtis was invited to visit Babylon by Iraqi antiquities experts.

Rock art discovered in northern England

In England, more than 250 new examples the finest collection of prehistoric rock art carvings have been discovered by archaeologists compiling a unique database. Now over one thousand of the 'cup and ring' carvings can be viewed on a new website, which carries 6,000 images and is considered to be the most comprehensive of its kind in the world. The site includes the 250 panels unearthed in the expansive moorlands of Northumberland. Experts are still grappling with the origins and meaning of these abstract carvings. They are believed to be the work of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age people between 6000 and 3500 years ago. Among the new discoveries made by the University of Newcastle upon Tyne archaeologists is a collection where 14 carved stones were spotted and recorded for the first time. Elsewhere in the county, a local farmer alerted the team to seven panels on his land, which had not been previously recorded. Old favorites will also be featured in the website, such as the country's largest collection of rock art featured in one place, at Roughting Linn. Inspiration for the project came from the Northumberland rock art specialist, Dr Stan Beckensall, who donated his archive of books, photographs, drawings, rubbings and more to Newcastle University. The new website has been created with the help of Heritage Media, and set up by Newcastle University graduates Jessica Kemp, Marc Johnstone and computer database and website expert Horacio Ayestaran. The principal investigator was Prof Geoff Bailey, previously at Newcastle University but now with the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. Features of the new website, which can be viewed at include an advanced search facility, an 'interactive zone', mainly aimed at younger and non-specialist users and an archive featuring around 6,000 images including 360 degree photographs showing rock art in its landscape settings.

New survey explores ancient mystery of Laos's Plain of Jars

Our final story is from Laos, where archaeologists are preparing an inventory of the Plain of Jars. No one knows much about the thousands of pod-like stone vessels, some taller than a man, which dot the landscape in the northeastern region. Some are nestled next to bomb craters. The puzzle of the Plain of Jars remains today as intriguing and mysterious to archaeologists as it did when Madeleine Colani of France made the earliest known excavations of the area more than 70 years ago. According to Julie Van Den Bergh, an archaeologist consulting for UNESCO, this is like the megaliths of Easter Island. Nobody really knows who the people were or why they were doing it. Van Den Bergh is working with local officials to prepare an inventory of the Plain of Jars relics, with the goal of applying for World Heritage protection next year. Their project includes the clearing of unexploded ordnance left behind after decades of conflict. Alone and in groups, the nearly 2,000 stone jars are spread out among 50 different sites where they stick out from the edge of trench lines and former tank positions, lie in pieces next to a bomb crater, or are split by a tree trunk. They range in size from three to ten feet in height and diameter. Archaeologists have agreed the jars are somehow grave-related but have not reached a consensus on their age. Early estimates put them at from 500 BC to 500 AD but the jars were later thought to be of ninth or 10th century AD origin. Nobody knows how long it will take to clear Laos of explosives. There have been estimates of 100 years plus. As the slow, dangerous work of clearing explosives from the Plain of Jars continues, the archaeologists also move closer to uncovering the mysteries of the ancient jars and their hidden history of Southeast Asia.

That wraps up the news for this week!

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where all the news is history!I’m Laura Kelley and I’ll see you next week!