Archaeologists to refuse help over possible Iran strike

10 July 2008

 NewScientist.com news service


PERSEPOLIS, once the capital of the Persian empire, and the massive mud-brick Bam citadel are among the nine listed World Heritage Sites in Iran. Yet leading archaeologists are urging colleagues to refuse any military requests to draw up a list of Iranian sites that should be exempted from air strikes.


"Such advice would provide cultural credibility and respectability to the military action," said a resolution agreed by the World Archaeological Congress in Dublin, Ireland, last week. Instead, delegates were advised to emphasise the harm that any military action would do to Iran's people and heritage.


During the invasion of Iraq in 2003, bombing damaged important monuments, including the Al-Zohur Palace in Baghdad, and museums and archaeological sites were later looted - even though archaeologists had been consulted in advance. "If these archaeologists had little impact in terms of saving even the few selected archaeological sites listed, what did they achieve?" asks Yannis Hamilakis of the University of Southampton, UK.

From issue 2664 of New Scientist magazine, 10 July 2008, page 6



Horse racecourse in ancient Olympia discovered after 1600 years

14 July 2008

The site of the ancient hippodrome course in Olympia, where the emperor Nero competed for Olympian laurels, has been discovered. The hippodrome was discovered in Olympia by a research team that included Professor Norbert Müller (a sports historian from Mainz), Dr Christian Wacker (a sports archaeologist from Cologne) and PD Dr Reinhard Senff (chief excavator of the German Archaeological Institute - DAI. "This discovery is an archaeological sensation," commented Norbert Müller of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. The research project extended over several weeks before being completed in the middle of May 2008.


Prior to this, the hippodrome had only been known from written sources. Archaeologists had failed to locate its actual site. This is surprising, as German archaeologists have been continuously excavating the site of where the ancient olympiad was held since 1875; this research has become a tradition and innumerable archaeologists, historians, and sports historians from all over the world have been involved in trying to solve this secret for over a hundred years.


Pausanias, a travel writer of the ancient world, described this course for horse races, its starting mechanisms, turning points and altars in much detail in the 2nd century AD: "If you climb over the stand of the stadion along the side where the hellanodikai are seated, you reach a terrain, where the horse races and the starting mechanism for the horses are located. The starting mechanism has the form of the prow of a ship, with the tip pointing to the race-track. Along the side where the prow touches the column of Agnaptos, it is broad. At the farthest tip of the prow there is placed a bronze dolphin on a pole (11) Both sides of the starting mechanism are more than 400 feet long and there are starting gates incorporated in them. These starting gates are assigned by lot to the competitors in the horse races. A cable is stretched out as starting barrier before the chariots or the ridden horses. An altar of unbaked brick, plastered on the outside, is constructed every Olympiad in the centre of the prow. (12) On the altar there is an eagle with outstretched wings. The race director operates a device inside the altar. When it is put into motion, the eagle flies up, so that it is visible for the spectators, and the dolphin falls to the ground. (13) The first cables to fall down are those on both sides of the column of Agnaptos and the horses in these positions leave first. They now draw level with those who have drawn the lot for the second place and the starting ropes are lowered here; this procedure continues until all the horses are level in a row at the tip of the prow. At this point the drivers can begin to demonstrate their skills and the speed of their horses. (14) It was Kleoitas who invented the starting device and he was so proud of his invention that his statue in Athens bears the following inscription: "The first inventor of the starting mechanism for horses at Olympia made me: Kleoitas, son of Aristokles." It is said that a certain Aristeides modified this invention. (15) "The racecourse has one side longer than the other, and on the longer side, which is an earthen bank, there can be found, at the passage through the bank, Taraxippos, the Horse-Frightener." (Pausanias VI 20.10-15)


Another - previously unheeded - written source from the 11th century AD goes so far as to state the size and dimensions of the enclosure: "The olympiad has a course for horse races that [has a length of] 8 stadia. Each of the long sides is 3 stadia and 1 plethron long, while the width to the starting gates measures 1 stadion and 4 plethra, [a total of] 4800 feet. Near the Taraxippos, behind which - so it is said - there is concealed an ancient hero, the horses run around a turning post; the finishing point of the race, however, is the pillar of Hippodameia. Among the horses, those in the foal category run a distance of 6 stadia, while those in the adult category run 12 stadia; chariots with a pair of foals travel three times around the circuit and those with adult horses eight times; chariots with four foals complete a total of eight circuits, while those with four adult horses complete 12 circuits." (Tabula Heroniana II, Fol. 27f.)


To date, it had been assumed that nothing of the hippodrome had survived, as the area described by Pausanias to the east of the sanctuary of Olympia has been flooded by the Alfeios River since ancient times and has become covered with silt. In modern plans and descriptions it is usually stated quite simply that "nothing remains of the hippodrome due to flooding in medieval times".

This served as an additional incentive for the German researchers: Using modern geophysical methods, they systematically searched the area for the first time. The experts Armin Grubert (Mainz) and Christian Hübner (Freiburg), who specialize in the use of geomagnetic and georadar techniques, were able to map soil disturbances such as water courses, ditches, and walls. Conspicuous, rectilinear structures were indeed discovered along a stretch of almost 1200 meters. The researchers believe this to be the racecourse, which ran parallel to the stadium. Structural remains identified as the temple of Demeter that is known to have been sited near the hippodrome were discovered in the northern part of the area investigated in the spring of 2007.


Of particular interest is the fact that at the halfway point of the northern access to the starting-gates - where Pausanias describes entering the hippodrome - there is a circular arrangement with a diameter of about 10 meters, clearly marked in the ancient soil layer, which could be the remains of the sacred structure described here by the ancient writer. The actual starting-gates, with boxes for up to 24 teams of horses, are most probably located under a gigantic pile of earth excavated by the archaeologists investigating the temple area since 1875.


The investigation of the area east of the sanctuary of Olympia, only made possible by the research funds provided by the Institute of Sports Science of the University of Mainz and the International Riding Association, has produced the first concrete indications of the location of the racecourse and its geographical dimensions.. Ten students were on hand to assist the sports historian Professor Norbert Müller, who is an authority on Olympia. "The DAI, with its branch in Athens, has done sports history a great service through its contribution," said Müller. "The project could become a new attraction for the sports world, similar to the excavation of the ancient Olympic stadium 50 years ago."


The area east of the sanctuary of Olympia had not been the subject of archaeological investigation before, although the ancient written sources show that this must have been the site of the largest construction, in area terms, built to host competitions. According to Pausanias, the hippodrome lay south of the now researched and reconstructed stadium, and must now be several meters below the current level. It is only here, between the adjoining hills on the other side of the road to Arcadia in the north and the bed of the Alfeios River in the south (which has since been straightened) that the topology is suitable for the accommodation of a racecourse with a length of more than one kilometer.


Nevertheless, the geological and geographical conditions are not favorable. On the one hand, intensive agricultural use has produced stark changes to the historical geography, and, on the other hand, the course of the Alfeios River, which once meandered through the plain, has changed several times over the centuries. The landscape in this area has changed so much that it is nearly impossible to reconstruct its appearance in ancient times. It is known today that the level of the river in medieval times was about 9 meters higher than in ancient times, but that about 7 meters of the deposited material has since been eroded and carried away by the river. This means that the ancient remains to the east of the sanctuary lie about 2 meters below the current level.


The racecourse described in such detail by Pausanias (Book VI 20.10-15) was located at this level. According to this author, the teams lined up in the shape of a prow of a ship in starting-gates in front of a hall; the starting signal was a brass eagle that was raised and lowered by means of a hoisting mechanism, while a dolphin figure moved in front of the drivers. There was space for spectators along a wall on the southern side and along the adjoining hills to the north, but it seems that there were no stone stands similar to those of the great circuses in Rome or Carthage.


Various reconstructions have been based on Pausanias' description, with the racecourse usually assumed to be twice as wide as the starting-gates. However, it was only after a hand-written medieval document from the 11th century was correctly reinterpreted by J. Ebert in 1989 that the actual appearance and dimensions of the hippodrome became apparent. The complex had a length of 1052 meters and a width of 64 meters, not including the earth walls built for the spectators. The starting-gates stretched the full width of the racecourse.


Modern geomagnetic methods were used by a team of German scientists in April/May 2008 to explore the accessible terrain at the level described above. Two different physics-based techniques were used. Geomagnetic mapping of archaeological structures involves the accurate, high-resolution recording of the tiny magnetic anomalies in the earth's magnetic field that these cause. Such anomalies are usually caused by the presence of foundations, large stone objects or burnt layers. This technique was used in combination with georadar, a ground penetrating form of radar. In this electromagnetic technique, short impulses that each last only a few nanoseconds are radiated into the ground. These are reflected by the margins of different layers and by objects. A combination of the two methods can be used to detect anomalies and even to determine at what depth they are located in the ground. This makes it possible to determine within which layer (modern, medieval, ancient) the identified anomalies are probably located.


An area of 10.5 hectares was finecombed with geomagnetic mapping techniques, while georadar was used to investigate an area of 3.6 hectares. It was not always possible to penetrate the thick layers of fine sand, while the remains of decades of agriculture in the form of fences, channels and concrete structures also made results difficult to interpret.


Nevertheless, some significant finds were made. It appears that there was never extensive construction on the site. The innumerable channels extending to the northern perimeter of the area once defined the edges of terraces or water drainage conduits. The Alfeios River would have repeatedly flooded the entire area up to the foot of the hills. As the ancient level is approximately 2 meters below the current level, however, any remains will have been protected to some extent. This means that the parallel anomalies (ditches, walls, earthworks) identified along a length of almost 200 meters must represent the remains of the ancient hippodrome. The hippodrome was thus sited parallel to the stadium and ended where there is a distinctive bend in the modern road at its eastern turning point. Approximately half-way along the northern access route to the starting-gates - where Pausanias entered the hippodrome - a circular stone formation with a diameter of about 10 metres was found in a layer dating from ancient times. Some remains that were most probably once buildings located on a terrace have been discovered near the road on the northern side of the hippodrome. As remains of a temple of Demeter have been discovered by Greek archaeologists in the immediate vicinity underneath the modern road, it now seems likely that this was the location described by Pausanias.


Hence, without any need for excavation, modern geomagnetic techniques have given us the first clear indications of the site of the hippodrome east of the sanctuary of Olympia. This means that archaeological and sports-historical research has come a little closer to solving one of the last great mysteries of Olympia.



Archaeology: Ancient bones may lead to TB cure

Archaeologists and medical researchers are joining forces to examine human remains from Jericho in a real-life version of 'Bonekickers'

Robin McKie in London and Toni O'Loughlin in Jerusalem

The Observer,

Sunday July 13, 2008


Ancient bones from the city of Jericho are to be used by British scientists to develop treatments for tuberculosis. The project is part of a new scientific discipline in which archaeologists and medical researchers are cooperating to gain insights into modern ailments.


Other diseases being tackled this way include syphilis, malaria, arthritis and influenza. Ancient history holds vital clues in seeking out treatments for modern diseases, according to these real-life counterparts of TV's new archaeological detective series Bonekickers, starring Hugh Bonneville and Adrian Lester. The programme gives dramatic relevance to the study of archaeology, as UK scientists are doing with the study of ancient diseases.


This point is stressed by project leader Professor Mark Spigelman, of University College London. 'I don't think we've got new diseases today; we have got variations of old diseases,' he told The Observer.


The team, which also includes Israeli, Palestinian and German researchers, will be following up pioneering work by British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon. In the Fifties she made a series of important digs at Jericho and found bones from thousands of humans, some dating back 8,000 years.


When these bones were examined, it was discovered many had lesions, indicating that the city's men and women had suffered from tuberculosis. The walls of Jericho may have come down, not with a trumpet blast, but with epidemic of coughing, it seems.


Now Spigelman and his team have begun studying DNA from these remains in order to identify genes that might have helped to make the people of Jericho susceptible or resistant to tuberculosis, and so help in the development of more effective treatments for the disease.


In addition, the team will study how the TB bacterium evolved over the millennia. 'As humans grew up, the bugs grew up - and we are looking for these changes,' said Spigelman.


Crucially, TB needs an urban environment to survive. 'TB is a disease of crowds because it spreads by people coughing,' added Spigelman. And given that Jericho was one of the world's oldest cities, its human remains are crucial to investigating the roots of TB thousands of years ago.


'Jericho is pivotal because it gives us a founder population from a very, very early site of urbanisation,' he added.


Today TB infects nine million people a year - 450,000 with a strain that is resistant to first-line drugs, according to the World Health Organisation. The need to gain new insights into the disease has therefore become urgent.


Not every disease is susceptible to such research, however. According to Dr Simon Mays at English Heritage's Ancient Monuments Laboratory, many illnesses leave no marks on the skeletons of their victims, making it impossible for scientists to pinpoint the bones of disease victims and to study them.


'For example, viral infections tend to be rapid in their impact and leave no trace,' he said. 'On the other hand, many bacterial infections do leave bone lesions, however - such as TB, leprosy and syphilis. Each of these has become of the focus of research, as a result.


'Historical clues are also useful. We can study the skeletons of bubonic plague victims because we know many were buried in special communal graves.'


In addition, scientists recently exhumed the bodies of victims of the 1918 flu epidemic because they had been buried in marked graves. Data from this research has been crucial in preparing medical defences against future epidemics, added Mays.


In addition, digs in Britain have provided evidence of arthritis spread through the population during the Middle Ages.


'Archaeological research has also shown that until relatively recently, children were weaned around the age of three,' said archaeologist David Miles, 'for the reason that late-weaned children were better protected against infections. Weaning children early, as we do today, is not necessarily a good thing, the lesson of history would suggest.'



Sex curse found at ancient Cyprus site: report


NICOSIA (AFP) — An unexpected sexual curse has been uncovered by archaeologists at Cyprus's old city kingdom of Amathus, on the island's south coast near Limassol, according to a newspaper on Friday.


"A curse is inscribed in Greek on a lead tablet and part of it reads: 'May your penis hurt when you make love'," Pierre Aubert, head of Athens Archaeological School in Greece told the English language Cyprus Weekly.


He said the tablet showed a man standing holding something in his right hand that looks like an hour glass. The inscription dates back to the 7th century AD when Christianity was well established on the island, leading the French professor to surmise that it referred to the activity of witchcraft or shamans surviving from the pagan era.


The ancient city of Amathus was founded by the Phoenicians at around 1500 BC and derived its wealth from grain and copper mines. The city, a regional capital under the Romans, still flourished in the 7th century AD but was abandoned by the 12 century.



Rare artefact found at Roman site

Archeologists excavating a site at Caerleon have found the remains of a rare Roman lance.


Archaeologists excavating one of the most important Roman sites in Britain have made an "extremely rare" find.


The team digging at part of the Roman fortress in Caerleon near Newport found what they believe is a legionary's ceremonial lance.


Dr Peter Guest said he thought the iron staff, broken into three pieces, was the first of its type found in the UK.


He also believed it was likely to have belonged to a high-ranking commander who was "not to be tampered with".


Dr Guest, of Cardiff University, said: "It's a very unusual find and there's not more than a dozen of them.


"I don't know of any of that type in Britain.


"There are a few at fortresses and forts around the Rhine and Danube, the frontiers of the Roman Empire."


The staff would probably have featured some type of decoration such as plumes, which indicated that the carrier was no ordinary soldier.


He would probably have been on special assignment, perhaps with the legion's commander or other high-ranking member of the Roman government in Britain.


The artefact was found by a team working at the fortress to try to find out more about what could be a 2,000-year-old warehouse.


A large trench has been opened over the building, which is thought to have supplied the Roman legion.


The building was discovered during surveys and trial excavations last year.


Caerleon was the main administrative centre for the Roman army in Wales by 74 AD and is one of the most important Roman sites in Britain.


• Site tours take place at 1100 and 1430 BST daily (except Saturdays).



A second Roman bath house found on Northamptonshire farm


Flooding for Northamptonshire residents even affected Roman settlers in the third century, archaeologists in Nether Heyford have discovered.


Whitehall Roman Villa in Nether Heyford has been under excavation for more than 10 years, since foragers armed with metal detectors discovered a large number of Roman coins in 1996.


And in the latest study, a second bath house has been found close to the River Nene.


Stephen Young, site director, said: "It was in use for perhaps one generation but because of flooding it was abandoned, and the bath house we already knew about was built instead."


He said the evidence for this was that soil on top of the bath house dated back to the fourth century, meaning it could only have been used for a short time.


Remains of a mosaic floor have been found, along with painted plaster, window glass, a well-preserved piece of a horse's bridle and a bracelet.


The bath houses both had several rooms for different uses, to allow bathers to change, lie in a hot room, enjoy a hot bath, a cold bath or even a massage.


Farm owner Nick Adams said: "We were amazed to find the second bath house.


"The thinking is that flooding from a spring would have meant the lower bath house would not work properly."


The site has also been given two interpretation boards worth £2,000 which explain the site and show how it would have looked in Roman times.


Dave Prichard, land management officer from Natural England, which donated the boards, said: "This is about making more people understand what this is all about.


"By having a visual aid we are supporting the ongoing excavation and helping more people understand what it all means."


For further information log on to www.whitehallvilla.co.uk



Peter the Great’s Ship Discovered in Baltic Sea

By Ali Nassor

Special to The St. Petersburg Times


Archaeologists have discovered the wreck of a Russian battleship designed by Peter the Great in Amsterdam and which played a key role in a 1719 victory over Sweden in a war on the Baltic Sea.


A team including professional archeologists, divers, a film-producer and a cameraman located the 54-gun “Portsmouth” battleship at a 12-meter depth in the waters off Kotlin Island near Kronshtadt last week during final stages of a three-month mission as part of the “Secrets of the Sunken Ships” project.


The team was back on dry land on Tuesday.


“We are currently lobbying for an immediate raising of the wrecks to serve both as a museum and as objects for research,” said Andrei Lukoshkov, head of the research team, adding that the discovery is unique because the ship, which was designed by Peter the Great, disappeared with another ship, the “London,” on the way back to the port of Kronshtadt.


However, pending further studies of the wrecks, the archaeologists are yet to establish if wreckage found near the “Portsmouth” also belongs to the “London.”


“We have so many collections that we need to establish a museum of marine archaeology and shipbuilding,” said Lukoshkov.


He said the Kronshtadt district administration has signaled support for the scheme but has yet to reveal the action plan.


Lukoshov said a total of 11 shipwrecks, including the remains of the “Oleg,” a cruiser built in St. Petersburg in 1901-1903 but sunk by an English torpedo on July 8, 1919, and those of an aircraft resembling Li-2 model belonging to the First Long Range Aviation Division Guard downed in 1944, have been found during the three-month mission.


Others include unidentified wreckage of a European mast ship, a German boat “Frida Horn” registered at Schlezwig, both tracked to the second half of the 19th century, and a well-preserved earlier version of a mainly iron battleship equipped with rifles.


Among the tasks carried out by the expedition team was the continuation of a study of the badly damaged 16th century 40-meter-long mast-ship discovered last year, belonging to the same class as the famous Swedish “Vasa” battleship also discovered last year. “Vasa” is believed to have sunk between 1580 and 1610 during Boris Gudunov’s reign when the Swedes had conquered the Northwestern part of Rus, the ancient state that predates Russia.


The recent breakthrough brings to a total of about 30 wrecks of warships discovered in the “Secrets of the Sunken Ships” project. Others include the “Hanhoot,” built in 1892, the “Jigit” and the “Haezdnik,” both built in 1856, making a total of about 50 wrecks including the merchant and passenger ships in the Gulf of Finland, River Volkhov and Lake Ladoga.


Meanwhile, at the behest of the museum of the Siege of Leningrad (Blockade Museum), the archaeologists also carried out a special expedition in the Neva River in search of a boat that went down during the Nazi blockade of the city. They have reportedly located an unspecified number of tanks and arms on the Neva riverbed.





Ancient ruins found in Bolivia

David Mercado, Reuters

Published: Thursday, July 10, 2008


COPACABANA, Bolivia -- Archeologists have begun digging at an ancient ceremonial site in eastern Bolivia to piece together the rites and daily life of cultures dating as far back as 3,000 years ago.


Locals stumbled upon the remains while clearing the ground to build a new market in the picturesque town of Copacabana, a tourist hotspot on the shores of Lake Titicaca.


But some relics go back as far as 3,000 years, when a little-known religious tradition called Yayamama is thought to have flourished in the Andes.


"They carved sculptures [in stone] with a man on one side and a woman on the other," said archeologist Sergio Chavez, who works for Central Michigan University.


The sculptures, which also feature two-headed snakes and geometric shapes, are still revered by local indigenous groups.


The Yayamama built a series of small temples by the lake, each two hours by foot from the other, Chavez told Reuters.


Wearing an Indiana Jones-style fedora hat, Chavez said he will study the stratified remains to try to better understand how different Andean cultures evolved.


"Starting from the oldest period, we have the Yayamama. And gradually we have ... the Tiwanaku some 1,000 years ago, the Inca, the colonial period, the hacienda era, [and] the republic," said Chavez, a Peruvian, sitting amid dozens of tattered clay objects in his shack-like field lab.


Outside, a group of Aymara Indians whom Chavez trained cleared the earth around tombstones and large clay pots in search of small artifacts.


"There's a lot to be proud of in here, and we have to find our identity in these things. To understand the present and plan for the future, we have to look at the past," he said.


But the U.S.-trained archeologist said not everyone in Copacabana, near the border with Peru, is as excited about the past as he is.


Locals are determined to finish the construction of the market they started in June, and Chavez said he feels rushed.


"We've had to work really hard to show the architecture, the remains, so people realize that they have a huge cultural value," he said.




July 8, 2008—A newfound tomb in northern Peru contains well-preserved human remains and artifacts, shedding light on the pre-Colombian Moche Indian civilization, archaeologists say.


© 2008 National Geographic (AP)