Audio News for January 17th to January 23rd.

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.

New threat to ancient treasures from Vesuvius

Original Headline: Classical treasures threatened by Vesuvius


In our first story, a report released from Oxford warns that an earthquake or volcanic eruption may to destroy a library of priceless ancient books at near Mount Vesuvius, unless they can be excavated soon.  Scientists have discovered new ways to read the estimate 1,800 charred scrolls already found in the ruins of the Villa of the Papyri (puh-PIE-ree) at Herculaneum (HER-cue-lay-nee-um).  Scholars are convinced that even more scrolls await discovery.  Among the works are likely to be some of the world's greatest, most famous, lost books by ancient thinkers, historians and playwrights such as Aristotle, Livy, and Euripides.  Professor Robert Fowler told a meeting of the Herculaneum Society at Wadham (WAD-um) College, Oxford, "The chances are very high that much remains to be found in three newly identified and unexplored levels."  The society was founded last year to promote the excavation and preservation of sites at Herculaneum before it is too late. The ancient city, covered by up to 100 feet of lava, lies on a fault line like that which led to the Indian Ocean tsunami, and renewed volcanic activity or an earthquake could destroy its remains for ever. Vulcanologists believe that an eruption of Vesuvius is overdue. Scholars at the Herculaneum Society meeting agreed that treasures lost to humanity for two millennia could be retrieved. Strong opposition to immediate excavation came from Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, director of the British School at Rome and an known expert on Herculaneum. "It would be a scandal to expose the Villa of the Papyri to the daylight now, before we can guarantee that it would be saved for the future," he said. Prof Wallace-Hadrill pointed to damage suffered by parts of Herculaneum excavated in the 1930s and 1990s. Because the rest of the villa lies beneath the modern town of Ercolano (AIR-co-LAWN-oh), Prof. Fowler advocates tunneling. A feasibility study for that should be concluded this year. One reason for thinking that lost works by such intellectual giants as Aristotle lie beneath the volcanic layers is that the hundreds of papyri already studied almost certainly belonged to Philodemus (phil-oh-DEEM-us), a philosopher noted for his critique of Aristotle's poetic theory, who lived from 110 to 35 BC.

Parking lot display may come from famous sunken ship

Original Headline: Wreckage possibly could be sunken British warship


In the United States, an archaeological diver thinks it's possible that a piece of a British warship that was sunk during the War of 1812 has been hiding in plain sight for seven years.  Standing on display in parking lot at historic Fort Gaines on an Alabama barrier island near Mobile, a plaque tells visitors that the hunk of hardwood and corroded iron is the keel of an unknown ship "built in the 1800s or earlier." Glen Forest, a marine archaeologist who did dive work during the excavation of the USS Monitor, is now working on dry land, trying to conclusively identify the 30-foot ship fragment.  Forest's theory is that the massive flotsam is actually the top, left, rear side of the British warship HMS Hermes, a sloop-of-war carrying about 20 guns.  The vessel was set on fire and exploded during the first of two British attacks in the War of 1812.  This century, archaeologists have launched periodic searches for the vessel's remains and found nothing.  Forest, who makes his living as a diving instructor, said he was giving instructions in this area in May when he saw the fragment for the first time on Dauphin Island.  "I knew the moment I saw it that it was important," Forest said. He quickly found that no one had done an in-depth study to determine what ship it came from.  He then set about analyzing the wreck, seeking to fit it into the complex puzzle of maritime history in Mobile Bay, where 500 years have left hundreds of wrecks in the sand, waiting to be unearthed and tossed onto land.  He determined that it must be the rear portion of the left side of a warship’s hull -- the part that would support the rear left edge of the deck.  Above the place where the decking would have laid, a wall would have risen with square gun ports cut into it.  It was the height and thickness of its "spirketing" -- the railroad tie-like strip of wood that would have been the base of a wall, into which the gun ports would have been cut -- that made him think it must be a warship, he said.  Forest also thinks the fragment's 30-foot length is significant.  The Hermes was 100 feet long, and, according to him, vessel components at the time were often built in lengths equal to one third of the length of the whole vessel.  He reports that the wooden treenails that hold much of the chunk together appear to be red oak or some similar wood. That squares with the fact that, after 1820, British ship builders started using white oak and other lighter-colored woods because they were easier to use.  He plans to take samples of the wood and have them tested by the National Park Service.  Samples will be taken also to identify the rest of the wood in the ship fragment.

Altar to Heracles may stand at his birthplace

Original Headline: Shrine to Hercules unearthed


In Greece, archaeologists working at Thebes, about 45 miles north of Athens, have discovered remains of an altar and dwellings from 3,000 years ago that may mark the birthplace of the ancient hero Heracles.  The archaeological site in question has been dubbed The House of Heracles.  The spectacular buried heritage at Thebes has yielded many artifacts from antiquity.  This latest excavation, which uncovered remains of an altar and ancient dwellings, appears to match up with descriptions left by the Greek poet Pindar (pin-dahr), some 2,500 years ago, of a shrine to Heracles built on his legendary birthplace.  Small bronze figures, including one showing Heracles grappling with a lion, are a key piece of evidence.  Myths recount that Heracles, the illegitimate son of almighty Zeus, was known for the 12 labors imposed on him by the gods, including slaying a lion and a nine-headed serpent.  Archaeologists have explored most of the 335-square-meter site.  They have recovered several hundred ceramic vessels, small bronze statues, animal bones, and a thick layer of ash from burning animals sacrificed to the gods.  The objects discovered date from the third millennium BC to the late Byzantine era.  The dig and the discoveries began when construction workers were moving earth to build a hotel.  Construction of the hotel has been suspended indefinitely.

My kingdom for a source: experts debate location of Richard III's battlefield

Original Headline: My kingdom for a battlefield: researchers to look for the site where Richard III really died


Our final story is from Britain, where experts say the battle site immortalized by William Shakespeare in his play Richard III, wherein the desperate monarch offered his kingdom for a horse, may be the wrong spot.  The Leicestershire (LES-TER-shur) County Council is about to embark on a three-year archaeological and topographical research project to identify where the Battle of Bosworth was really fought in 1485.  The skirmish marked the end of the Wars of the Roses and the beginning of Tudor England.  It was the last time a British king was killed on the battlefield.  Some 22,000 people a year visit a spot at Ambion (AM-bee-un) Hill, which allegedly marks the spot where the embattled monarch was supposed to have lost his crown to Henry Tudor.  Glenn Foard, a historian, has reviewed the evidence and concluded that an alternative site suggested 15 years ago is probably the right place.  The studies could even shed light on whether, as is commonly held, Richard was betrayed by his supporters or whether Henry, subsequently crowned Henry VII, was a superior commander.  Britain has 270 known battlefields, of which about 220 are in England, at least 40 in Scotland and fewer than 10 in Wales.  It is only in England that an official register of battlefields exists, compiled by English Heritage.  Many believe that battlefields are neglected within the hierarchy of heritage sites in terms of funding, compared with the plethora of well-preserved castles, stately homes and Roman sites.  Bosworth Field is one of the better-preserved battlefield sites, with a visitor's center for the perennial crowds of tourists interested in the infamous end to a king whose virtues or vices are still dramatically in dispute.  It appears now that the site of his demise is also in question.

That wraps up the news for this week!

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