Audio News for August 29th to September 4th

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from August 29th to Sept 4th.

Even history needs to be cleaned up after Hurricane Katrina


In light of the massive tragedy and devastation of Hurricane Katrina, our first story is from the United States where preservationist have their bags packed with safety glasses, gloves, masks, boots and suits. As soon as they are allowed to hit the ground in New Orleans, they plan to set up triage tents and long tables. Then the emergency team from the National Park Service will begin its work: blotting, washing, drying, straightening and preserving centuries of historical artifacts that tell the story of one of the oldest U.S. cities. The curators, archaeologists and historians are not the bookish types who dwell in dusty stacks. According to Pam West the Museum Resource center’s director, these are people who are trained in outdoor survival skills, are immunized against disaster area diseases, have helicoptered in and out of work sites and know how to identify poisonous snakes and spiders. Their biggest enemy is mildew. The preservationists dried and blotted a million artifacts from colonial Jamestown in Virginia after Hurricane Isabel hit in 2003. Last year, they used boats to get to 300,000 artifacts in the Fort Pickens museum near Pensacola, Fla., after Hurricane Ivan. Once it gets the all-clear in the coming days, the preservation team will head to the Crescent City to retrieve documents, photographs, furniture and other pieces of history that have marked the rich life of a city founded in 1718 and occupied by the French, Spanish, Creoles, Americans, Confederates, as well as by fire, disease and water. There are photographs and musical instruments in the Park Service's jazz museum, musical scores in Louis Armstrong's home, archives at the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve museum and the Chalmette Battlefield and National Cemetery, all floating in swampy, oily, polluted water. Once the artifacts are pulled from the water, Park Service specialists can begin the work: laying out, sorting, stretching, and drying. Sometimes, they can clean objects and transport them elsewhere for restoration at a better facility. However, as is often the case in hurricane situations -- where humans, let alone objects cannot get transportation, refrigeration or water -- curators have to work in less-than-ideal conditions. According to West, (quote) "I saw someone preserve a 20-by-20 photo right there on the spot once. They knew how to dry and blot and straighten it right there, in the middle of camp." The team also plans to work with universities and the residents of New Orleans, helping restore hundreds of years of memories.

Three stones shed light on Roman history


In England, three stones are telling historians about the Roman occupation of Tynedale. According to English Heritage curator Georgina Plowright, the stones are in bad shape and quite damaged, but because of the importance of the information they convey, they are putting them on display. The three of them together enlarge the knowledge we have of the Roman settlement of Corbridge. The largest and most intriguing stone was unearthed last year by Tyne and Wear Museums during the excavations of the Roman Bridge at Corbridge. The octagonal stone finial was found among the collapsed stones of the road running up to the south end of the bridge. This stone would have topped a large octagonal column and stood at the approach to the bridge, or on the bridge itself. Despite its weathered appearance, the crispness of the monument is still apparent from the molding at the base, although what originally was placed underneath it is yet to be determined. The Roman bridge at Chesters had pillars spaced along its walls and, consequently, the octagonal finial may have formed part of a similar architectural feature. Another possibility being researched is that the stone is from a rather exceptional and elaborate milestone. The second stone wasdiscovered during the 1906 excavations at Corbridge and was published the following year. The stone was recently rediscovered in a local farmyard. It was originally one of a pair, re-used in a Roman building to the southwest of the English Heritage site. It is a voussoir, a stone thought to have formed part of an arch. The third stone to go on display was found lying on the side of an excavated trench during the installation of a new water main, north of Corbridge. Two freshly made light-colored scars on the stone’s two longer edges show that it originally had raised sides, which have subsequently broken off. This one is thought to be an aqueduct stone.

Modern science may help to preserve one of Michelangelo’s masterpieces


Experts have identified the origin of the marble block used for Michelangelo's David. This discovery will be useful for helping to preserve one of the world's greatest sculptures. Until now, art historians knew only that the large block came from the Carrara quarries in Tuscany. Analysts have now used three tiny samples, retrieved from the second toe of the left foot of David to track down the marble's origin. Not only were they able to determine the exact spot of excavation, the Fantiscritti quarries in Miseglia, they also found that Michelangelo's marble is of average quality, filled with microscopic holes, and likely to degrade faster than many other marbles. Donato Attanasio, head of the research team at the Istituto di Struttura della Materia in Rome, stated that in the field of conservation work, it is becoming more important to have detailed knowledge about the materials and techniques used in works of art. It can be a great help in restoration or conservation work and, in this case, Carrara marble was considered too vague a specification. Michelangelo worked on his masterpiece between 1501 and 1504, but the 15-foot block of marble was actually quarried 40 years before that for the sculptor Agostino di Duccio, who had planned to make a giant figure of a prophet for one of the buttresses of Florence cathedral. The project was abandoned, probably because Di Duccio had no experience with large statuary work, and the marble lay unused for 10 years. Another sculptor, Antonio Rossellino, began working with the marble, but he, too, abandoned it as being too difficult to work with. In 1501, when Michelangelo stepped in, he promised to carve a statue from the block without cutting it down or adding other marble. The analysis of the marble was carried out for the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence, where the statue is displayed. The full results will be published in Britain next month in Elsevier's Journal of Archaeological Science. The fragments were subjected to a battery of tests to determine the marble's composition and then compared with samples from different parts of Carrara. Eventually, the search was narrowed down to the Fantiscritti site.

New discoveries at an ancient Ohio site


Our final story is from Ohio region in the United States, where archaeologists say they have something new to study at Fort Ancient State Memorial. A previously unknown circular structure about 200 feet in diameter was detected recently during groundwork for an erosion-control project at the site of 2,000-year-old earthworks. More study is needed to determine whether the structure is earthworks or the remains of a ditch that held a series of large posts or of some other kind of structure, state authorities said. The initial reaction at the site is astonishment, according to Jack Blosser, Fort Ancient's site manager. Blosser said the last major discovery at the site was the remains of several homes found during excavation for a museum and garden area built in 1998. Ohio authorities used a magnetometer, which can show disruptions in magnetic soil particles, to detect the structure below ground. They credited Jarrod Burks, an expert on remote sensing technologies with Ohio Valley Archaeological Consultants. The work is being funded with the help of a federal matching grant through the Save America's Treasures program of the National Park Service. Fort Ancient's earthworks, built by an indigenous people called the Hopewell, are 3.5 miles long, on nearly 100 hilltop acres above the Little Miami River in Warren County, about seven miles southeast of Lebanon. The site was established as an Ohio state park in 1891, and a 1930s project by the federal Civilian Conservation Corps helped eliminate erosion and stabilize the earthworks, state authorities said. However, water runoff in recent years has led to the need for new anti-erosion work.

That wraps up the news for this week!

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