Audio News for September 26th, to October 2nd, 2005

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from September 26th, to October 2nd, 2005.

Statues of Athena and Hera found on Crete


Our first story is from Crete, where the life-sized marble statues of two ancient Greek goddesses have emerged during excavations of a 5,000-year-old town on the island of Crete. The works date to a period of Roman rule in Greece between the 2nd and 4th centuries. One statue represents the goddess Athena, while the other depicts Hera. Archaeologist Anna Micheli from the Italian School of Archaeology stated that the statues were in very good condition adding that the statue of Athena, goddess of wisdom, was complete, while Hera – long-suffering wife of Zeus, the philandering king of gods – was headless. She added that “we hope to find the head in the surrounding area.” A team of Italian and Greek archaeologists discovered the statues on Tuesday while excavating the ruined theatre of Gortyn, some 27 miles south of Iraklion in central Crete. The goddesses, each standing 6.6ft-high with their bases, were toppled from their plinths by a powerful earthquake around the year 367, which destroyed the theatre and much of the town, Micheli said. Hopes were running high that other parts of the theatre’s sculptural decoration would emerge during future excavations. Gortyn, the Roman capital of Crete, was first inhabited around 3000 B.C., and was a flourishing Minoan town between 1600-1100 B.C. It prospered during classical and Roman times, and was destroyed by an Arab invasion in A.D. 824. Greek mythology has it that the town witnessed one of Zeus’ many affairs - with the princess Europa, whom the god, disguised as a bull, abducted from Lebanon. Europe was named after Europa, who conceived her first son with Zeus under a plane tree in Gortyn. The Italian School of Archaeology has been digging at the site since the early 20th century, in co-operation with Greek state archaeologists. So far, excavations have revealed fortifications, temples, baths, a stadium and an early church of St. Titus, who preached Christianity in Gortyn.

Lost Maya city of Site Q found in Guatemala


In Mexico, a team of scientists during a mission to the northwest Peten region of Guatemala has found incontrovertible proof of Site Q, a long-speculated Maya city. In 1997, an earlier expedition headed by Harvard's Peabody Museum found evidence at La Corona that led them to suggest first that La Corona was Site Q. Research since then has helped confirm their initial ideas and this finding provides the irrefutable evidence. The proof: an in-situ panel carved with over 140 hieroglyphs that fill in a key 30 year chapter in classic Maya history, which was found in a little known ancient royal center called La Corona. This site called Site Q — an abbreviation of the Spanish “ ¿que? ” or “ which? ” —has been the target of many expeditions. The expedition to Guatemala this past April was to set up camp for an in-depth study later this year. On their last day in camp, Marcello Canuto professor of anthropology at Yale and his team, happened upon what they believe to be one of the monuments of Site Q. In addition to confirming the existence and location of Site Q, the find is one of the longest hieroglyphic texts discovered in Guatemala in the last several decades. Canuto also noted that the two blocks making up the panel appeared to be in their original location in a temple platform and were in no way damaged or looted. The group will be returning to Guatemala to continue the study, which was supported in part by the National Geographic Society, the El Perú-Waka’ Archaeological Project directed by David Freidel and Héctor Escobedo, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Proofing Homer’s Odyssey


From Greece, Homer’s legendary hero Odysseus wandered for 10 years in search of his island kingdom, Ithaca. A British amateur archaeologist claims to have ended the ancient quest to locate the land described in “The Odyssey.” Although the western Greek island of Ithaca is generally accepted as the Homeric site, scholars have long been concerned by a mismatch between its location and geography and those of the Ithaca described by Ancient Greece’s greatest poet. Robert Bittlestone, a management consultant, stated that the peninsula of Paliki on the Ionian island of Cephalonia was the most likely location for Odysseus’ homeland. He said geological and historic evidence suggested Paliki used to form a separate island before earthquakes and landslides filled in a narrow sea channel dividing it from Cephalonia. Two distinguished British academics said they backed Bittlestone’s theory. James Diggle, a professor of Greek and Latin at Cambridge University, said the hypothesis worked because it explained why in one passage Homer describes Ithaca as “low-lying” and “towards dusk,” i.e. lying to the west of a group of islands including Cephalonia and Zakynthos. John Underhill, an Edinburgh University professor of stratigraphy, the science of studying the layers of rocks in the Earth’s crust, provided geological evidence supporting Bittlestone’s theory, up to a point. Underhill said that certain earthquake activity had caused Paliki to rise some 19 feet out of the sea. However, further research was needed, Underhill said. He wanted to test sediments in a dried-up lake on the landfill area. If they were older than 3,000 years, that would suggest the area was not underwater in the Homeric period — thus disproving Bittlestone’s hypothesis. Traces of small Mycenaean settlements have been located on Ithaki, but nothing big that could be associated with the palatial structure one would expect as the seat of a Mycenaean king such as Odysseus. However, a cave on Ithaki yielded a votive offering with the inscription “My vow to Odysseus.” This possibly indicates the Homeric king was the object of a local hero cult. Bittlestone said he was cooperating on the project with Greece’s Ministry of Culture and the Athens-based Institute of Geology and Mineral Exploration, and said further geological work on Paliki was planned for 2006-07.

Searching for a pre-Revolutionary fort in Virginia


Our final story is from the United States, where a Virginia site is revealing a pre-Revolutionary War fort visited in 1756 by George Washington. University of Kentucky archaeologists Steve and Kim McBride and geologist Greg Adamson, along with more than a dozen others, chopped, scraped and scooped through layers of drought-hardened ground this weekend to verify the location of Fort Vause. The crew found a handful of artifacts and a dark stain in the layers of soil. The stain, especially promising, might be evidence that at least one British Colonial fort was built on the hill. In early 1756 French, Shawnee, Miami and Ottowa troops attacked a fort, which was built by a settler named Ephraim Vause somewhere in present-day Shawsville. The forces burned the installation and killed or kidnapped many of the settlers, indentured servants and slaves sheltering inside the palisades. The attack was part of a French-led campaign to destabilize British settlements in Virginia. Some Indian tribes who joined the French in battle hoped to force British settlers out of the country, viewing them as invaders. But other Indian people, including many Cherokee, sided with the British. Official military letters and reports from the day document the existence of the first fort and spell out efforts to quickly reconstruct it after the attack. But locals have long disagreed about the locations of the two forts. Some say both forts were built on the spot. Others say only one of the forts stood there. Pinning down the location is important because Washington, a young British Colonial officer at the time, likely visited only the second fort. He came there to settle a dispute with soldiers who were demanding higher wages to finish the reconstruction. Archaeologist Steve McBride said the evidence so far suggests that only the second fort stood on the site because the crew has so far found no evidence of a fire.

That wraps up the news for this week!

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