Audio News for September 5th to September 11th

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from September 5th to September 11th.

Prague statuette depicts goddess from Persia


Our first story is from Prague, Czech Republic, where a small unique seal in the form of the Persian fertility Goddess Anahita was uncovered. During his research, archaeologist David Danicek (DAN-ih-chek) found the statue on the same spot where he uncovered an ancient burial ground from the period of the Migration of the Nations during the 4th-5th centuries A.D. He believed that a grave belonging to a woman "of higher social rank" could be hidden there as well. The statuette of Anahita is believed to have been made in Iran in the 4th or 5th century A.D. at the time of the Sasanian dynasty. Similar findings have come from the Rhine River Basin where archaeologists have excavated a grave full of weapons and similar decorations. The Prague goddess is a sitting or half-kneeling woman in a long green coat with a golden hook and probably a golden necklace who is hiding her face behind what may be a book, a codex, or maybe ivory plates. The lower part of the statue, which appears to be formed as a seal, was reportedly decorated with an erotic motif.

Gold Rush era ship found in San Francisco


In the United States, the remains of a massive Gold Rush era ship have been discovered at the site of a large construction project in downtown San Francisco. The ship's decaying bow peeked up through the earth as workers brushed away generations of dirt from its aging timbers. According to James Allan, "This is awesome. Everybody gets excited about this. It makes digging in all that mud worthwhile." Allan is an archaeologist with Williams Self Associates, overseeing the removal and cataloging of the ship's remains. The city of San Francisco, the site developer and Allan's firm have a standing agreement to record the historical value of any submerged cultural resources they come across at such sites. This isn't the first such find; the city's financial district rests atop a nautical morgue, of sorts, with hundreds of ships forming a portion of the landfill that used to be prime waterfront. Allan said the ship remains do not hold anything of value, other than history. The ship was likely abandoned as Gold Rush fever overtook the region in the mid-1800s. In the 1850s, as many as 600 ships were abandoned in San Francisco's harbor, burned or simply junked by owners who switched their focus to mining the rich gold veins in the state's interior. What's left of the ship would be removed, up to the property line. The rest of the ship, likely most of the stern, would remain buried. In a warehouse across the street from the construction site, Angela Cook, 28, an archaeologist, worked on sketches of large timber pieces already removed from the site. Many of the thick wooden beams bear numbers carved into them, while decaying iron bands held others together. The waters of the San Francisco Bay and the nearby coastline are a natural graveyard for shipwrecks from several centuries, trapping schooners, steamers and clippers that failed to navigate the region's rugged sea floor.

New chemical treatment will save medieval manuscripts from decay


At an annual conference of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Dublin, scientists announced that they have discovered a way to slow the disintegration of old manuscripts. The technique involves bathing papers in an organic solution containing alkali compounds and antioxidants. These help to tie up atoms of copper and other metals in the ink that may eat the paper away. This means it can be applied to documents without fear of washing away scribbles, causing a book to swell or ruining a leather binding. The researchers have applied for a patent, and they say the bath could help to protect ancient documents and manuscripts throughout the world's libraries for many years to come. It should be ready for commercial use within a few years. Conservators have long known that there is something corrosive about inks from the Middle Ages. Many documents, ranging from sketches by famous artists to political documents like treaties, have fallen apart over time, with holes appearing where the ink used to be. To tackle this problem, Jana Kolar, head of the project, and her colleagues sought to uncover the exact constituents of the inks. Early analyses had indicated that medieval inks are often full of iron. Free atoms of this metal in the ink react with the air to create oxygen radicals, reactive atoms that break down cellulose, yellowing paper and making it brittle. To the horror of scholars, after hundreds of years this can cause the paper to fall apart.
Kolar and her team noticed that some ancient recipes specified that the ink should be a "heavenly blue" rather than coal black. So they suspected that the main ingredient could be copper, from blue copper sulphate, rather than iron. They investigated by bombarding old inks with protons, and analyzing the X-rays emitted from the samples. Sure enough, the inks contained copper, as well as chromium and manganese, which together are more corrosive than iron alone. For a solution to this problem, the team turned their attention to free radical scavengers and antioxidants, the same compounds that stop cellular damage in humans by tying up particularly reactive atoms. One of Kolar's collaborators, Han Neevel at the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage in Amsterdam, had previously used one such compound to stop the corrosive process of iron in old inks. But this compound, known as phytate, is metal-specific and so cannot be used with all inks from the old days. And the phytate process has the disadvantage of being water-based. The new process combines antioxidants and halides, to stop the degradation, with alkalis to make the paper less acidic. The whole thing is in an organic solution of heptane and ethanol, both of which evaporate and so can be removed from paper easily.

Recently found, Peruvian city is already plundered


Our final story is from Peru, where an American explorer says an ancient, pre-Incan metropolis discovered by his father in Peru's remote cloud forest, on an earlier expedition, has been plundered by tomb robbers. Sean Savoy urged the government to take steps to protect the city, which he estimated housed 20,000 people and had hundreds of circular stone buildings in the 7th century. Savoy, just back from leading a 23-day expedition to the site, described it as a massive metropolitan complex spread along a river valley high in Peru's rain forest on the eastern slopes of the Peruvian Andes. The expedition to the Gran Saposoa (GRAWN SAH-poh-SO-ah) ruins, located 335 miles north of Lima, included more than 50 people, counting government archaeologists, architects, a stonemason, an expert on Andean art, armed police, and 30 mule drivers. Savoy, son of famed 78-year-old explorer Gene Savoy, who has discovered more than 40 lost cities in Peru since the 1960s, stated that the city is much bigger than his father had calculated. He estimated the metropolitan area covers more than 80 square miles. The elder Savoy discovered it in 1999, naming it Gran Saposoa, and concluded it was one of the cities of the Chachapoyas kingdom. Spanish chronicles from the 16th century tell of a network of seven Chachapoyas cities strung like a necklace along the heights of the high jungle of northern Peru. Sean Savoy said members of this year's expedition were stunned to find that a sculptured stone head at the most important set of ruins had been ripped from its place in a stone wall. But they were in for an even more unpleasant surprise. They encountered a site, previously unknown to them, but obviouslyknown to others, where over 50 cliffside tombs were destroyed. Not just sacked and looted, the tombs themselves had been destroyed by the picks and axes used to tear them apart. Savoy said the latest expedition discovered a sixth citadel, located at 12,000 feet with a 64-foot-wide avenue. He said the six interconnected districts discovered during five expeditions contain hundreds of circular stone buildings. He said he understands how hard it is for a poor nation like Peru to protect its many pre-Columbian ruins. The Savoys live most of the year in Reno, Nevada, where Gene Savoy directs the Andean Explorers Foundation. Since his last trip to Gran Saposoa in 2001, the elder Savoy has dedicated his time to writing a book about his last 15 years of exploration. The elder Savoy is credited with finding three of Peru's most important ruins: Vilcabamba, the last refuge of the Incas; Gran Pajaten (GRAWN PA-ha-TEN), a citadel city atop a jungle-shrouded peak; and Gran Vilaya, a complex of more than 20,000 stone buildings. Much of his work has focused on the Chachapoyas, whose empire extended along a 135-mile stretch of the Andes' fogbound eastern slopes. He has now found six of the seven fabled Chachapoyas cities.

That wraps up the news for this week!

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