Monday, April 30, 2007

Ancient mosaic of the real Gladiator found

Source: Telegraph

By Nick Pisa in Rome

A chance discovery by archaeologists has brought to light a mosaic nearly 2,000 years old depicting what may have been a real-life version of the Roman combatant played by Russell Crowe in the film Gladiator.

The mosaic was found as Italian researchers carried out work on the spectacular Villa dei Quintili, south of Rome and home to the sports-loving Emperor Commodus.

Commodus, portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix in the film, was known to enjoy gladiatorial combat and had a small amphitheatre in which fighters would train, near the villa, which Commodus had seized after having its owners executed on a trumped-up charge of treason. It was nearby that the mosaic was found - picturing a gladiator named Montanus holding a trident alongside a referee who appears to be pronouncing him the victor over a prone opponent.

Riccardo Frontoni, who is leading the dig, said: "Historically, this is a very significant and exciting discovery because of the location where it was found: the Villa dei Quintili, which we know was Commodus's residence.

"It's close to the area where there was a small amphitheatre, and his love of blood sports is well known.

"The mosaics are in excellent condition and show the figure of a gladiator with the name Montanus. It's possible that Montanus may have been a favourite of Commodus and that the mosaic was dedicated to him."

Commodus was emperor from AD180 to 192, when he was strangled in his bath by the wrestler Narcissus, at the age of 31. He is depicted in the film as a scheming, bloodthirsty megalomaniac who eventually murders the character played by Crowe, the gladiator Maximus.

The real-life Commodus occasionally dressed up as a gladiator himself and fought in the arena, a practice that scandalised polite Roman society, which regarded such fighters as occupying the lowest rungs on the social ladder.

But while his arena opponents frequently survived because they submitted to the emperor, he is known to have enjoyed killing his sparring partners.

Appreciation of the potential value of the new discovery has not been confined to the archaeological world. Just hours after it was shown to The Sunday Telegraph, thieves tried to prise the 10 sq m scene from the ground, damaging the mosaic.

Mr Frontoni said: "We are disappointed that someone has tried to steal it. However, the damage was relatively small and the pieces that were broken off have been recovered, so we should be able to restore it."

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Everyday life in Pompeii revealed

Source: EurekAlert!

There is a common perception that life in the once-thriving Roman city of Pompeii is well-known from the wealth of artefacts that have been uncovered since its accidental discovery in 1748, but this is far from the case, according to findings of University of Leicester archaeologist Dr Penelope M Allison.

Until recently archaeologists working on Pompeian artefacts have tended to concentrate on examples of art, some of it erotic, from the town that was suddenly destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in August 79 AD. But Dr Allison’s recently published book, The Insula of the Menander in Pompeii vol 3: the finds, a contextual study, has changed this emphasis.

"I am looking at pots and pans and how houses actually functioned," she said. "I am interested in revealing the utilitarian side of life rather than its glamorous side; in slaves and servants and how they lived side by side with their masters. We always assume that servants were kept out of sight, but this is a 19th century view.

"If we look at the distribution of domestic material in Pompeii houses, such as the cupboards where pots and pans were kept, we find they were in the main front hall, the atrium where visitors would be received. The same is true of the main household water supply. Slaves would be coming to get these things all the time and would be far from invisible."

Dr Allison has been working on Pompeii for over 20 years. Her previous study was to look at 30 houses in the light of the everyday objects that had been largely ignored in favour of more exotic finds. She became fascinated by what the actual objects might have been used for and who might have used them.

"Today we have hundreds of very specific gadgets," she said, "but in a non-gadget world you have a number of things used for a variety of purposes, such as pots that might have been wine dippers and spindle whorls that were used as furniture ornamentation.

"Also, we assume we know about doctors in the Roman world. We believe that whenever we find medical instruments they belonged to doctors. But I think that a lot more high-level first aid went on within households. We have found surgical instruments in domestic contexts and I think someone in the house was responsible for sewing up injured people. Nowadays we have a much more specialised approach to looking after the human body."

Dr Allison also speculates on the amount of cooking that went on in the huge kitchens in affluent Roman households. "I found little braziers and flat vessels that were burned underneath that might have been used round the house, more like our barbecues, indicating that food was heated up in front of diners. Maybe Roman cooking smells did not offend these diners."

She has found no sets of tableware in Pompeian houses such as are found in Roman burial sites. Formal dining could have been very rare, she surmises, with people perhaps eating ‘on the wing’, much as busy families do today.

The implications of her research and recent book stretch beyond Pompeii itself, to how other Roman sites can be interpreted. Because of the suddenness of its destruction, Pompeii offers a context for the artefacts that are found, in a way that virtually no other site can do.

She has been looking at objects found in the same room and speculating on what that suggests in terms of usage of such objects. "For instance, why were this plate and these lamps found together? Were they indicative of some kind of offering? What were the lamps for? What was the situation that brought them together, and how would you have lit this space?" she asks.

Other finds that have puzzled her are the large quantities of heavy stone weights and scales in houses. "Today everything has its weight written on it when we buy it," she explains, "but in the Roman world everything would have to be weighted coming in and out of the houses.

"Also, where there are a number of looms found in one house, does this imply commercial activity? Not necessarily. We need to think more carefully about the relationship between commercial wool shops and the houses. Did women buy wool from shops and weave for their own household, selling off the surplus? We don’t know, this is not something archaeologists have looked at. Was weaving done by both men and women? We would assume men were involved in any commercial environment, but this is just our conception.

"We are taking Roman domestic life into a more intellectual realm," Dr Allison said, adding a caution. "Domestic life in the past was not necessarily the same as it is nowadays."

Dr Allison is one of a small number of prestigious ‘New Blood’ research appointments made recently at the University of Leicester. These lectureships offer young and talented research staff an opportunity to pursue their research, with a reduced teaching load during the first four years of employment and funding for research travel.

When the University first advertised the New Blood appointments nearly 1000 applications were received for the 21 posts on offer. Two New Blood appointments were made in the School of Archaeology and Ancient History.


The Insula of the Menander in Pompeii vol 3: the finds, a contextual study by Dr Penelope M Allison is published by Oxford University Press. It is part of a five-volume detailed study of one Pompeian city block by the British Pompeii Committee.

Contact: Penelope Allison
University of Leicester

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Unique Ancient Thracian Chariot Unearthed in Bulgaria

Source: Sofia News Agency

A completely intact Thracian chariot was unearthed by the Bulgarian archaeologist Vesselin Ignatov on Friday, Darik News reported.

The chariot was found near a burial barrow close to the central Bulgarian town of Nova Zagora. Ignatov and his team have already dated the finding to 2 century BC. The chariot has two wheels with its roof made of heavy bronze in the form of eagle heads and a folding iron chair, where the driver sat. The chariot was aimed to be pulled by three horses.

The uniqueness of the finding is that it is completely intact, with all its parts on place except the wooden ones, and now we can calculate its precise size and how exactly it was placed in the tomb, Ignatov said. He believes a second chariot will be found as the excavations continue.

Luckily this time the archaeologists reached the incredible finding before the treasure hunters, because they usually look only for gold and coins and destroy all other valuable objects.

Another Thracian chariot was found near the Sadievo village and another one was found near Korten, so now that there is a third one the regional historical museum in Nova Zagora town plans to open a museum of the Thracian chariots.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Roman bath in Ankara to be restored

Source: Turkish Daily News

The Turkish Ministry of Culture initiated a new project aiming to restore a historical "Roman Bath" in Ankara. The excavation, which will be carried out within the framework of a five-year project, started last week.

Under the guidance of Hikmet Denizli, Director of the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, several archeologists, chemists, and geology and geophysics engineers from Ankara University will participate in the excavations. The Museum of Anatolian Civilizations will be in charge of the restoration activities and examination of unearthed pieces in laboratories, as well.

During the excavations, the bath and the street with Roman columns will be connected to each other and the shops located on the street will be unearthed. A lighting system will be installed at the historical site, and new paths will be opened for visitors, as well. The Roman Bath will also be covered with a large tent in order to protect the site from rain and snow.

Roman Bath:

The Roman bath in Ankara was constructed on the orders of Emperor Caracalla between the years A.D. 212-217. Spreading over nearly 65,000 square meters, The Roman bath consists of a thousand architectural works, cemetery steles, inscriptions, tablets, water pipes and sarcophaguses.

Friday, April 20, 2007


Minoan seminar
27April 2007, 19.00

Dr Stella Mandalaki
23 rd Ephoreia of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities


The Seminar will be in Greek with English captions to slides
Archaeological Society, Panepistemiou 22


Dancing and music have been indispensable elements of human existence from ancient to modern times. In every civilization, from primitive to contemporary, dance movements accompany daily life and ritual actions, expressing in the most immediate manner a variety of sentiments. The semiotic content of dance is particularly broad and includes every kind of rhythmic movement, quite different from everyday, human kinetic activities, is accompanied by music or song and is deliberately executed by the dancer. The multifaceted function of dance in society compels the researcher of this subject to examine dance phenomena together with socio-political structures in order to interpret them in their entirety. At the same time, the study of dance has the potential to give a better understanding of the society in which it takes place. In this particular approach, different dances are distinguished based on Minoan iconography, taking into consideration the conventional methods of depicting Minoan movement, the provenance and chronology of the finds, as well as comparable dance scenes from Mainland Greece and the Aegean.

The most important Minoan dance performed throughout the Minoan era was the womens open circular dance which was performed with the same brilliant gusto in both the palatial and rustic setting in the context of ritual activities for the epiphany of the female divinity of nature. Typical elements of this particular dance are the exclusive participation of women, the free, circular motion of the dancers and the gestures of invocation notably in the raising of the arms above the head which is accompanied by a light backward inclination of the body. During the post-palatial period, the dance is accompanied with offerings of first-fruits, while the lead danseuse does not perform the characteristic gestures appropriate to her role, but rather accompanies the dance with an instrument. In the same period, dance took place in cemeteries, thereby acquiring a funerary character. In this instance, the object was cause the epiphany of the divinity in order that he deceased might have a safe journey to Hades.

During the performance of the open, circular dance in the West Courts of Minoan palaces, the measured entrance of dancers in two parallel lines led up to the main dance position. The movement was accompanied by the raising of one hand above the head.

The form of the open circle and the sacred character of the dance differentiate the womens circular dance from that of the men which was of the closed kind with hands on shoulders and took place in paved areas or inside the circular enclosures of cemeteries during funeral rites.
In the dance around sacred trees and rocks, the dancing of the leader is accompanied by two parallel or alternating dance-mime actions of symbolic content, shaking the sacred tree and clasping the natural rock, features that lend a theatrical and dramatic character to the performance. Both sexes took part in the dance in open-air sanctuaries or in the palatial environment, within the context of performances connected with the epiphany of different divinities, male, female or pairs. The firm shaking of the tree-trunk not a wild tree but rather one planted inside the wooden enclosure - is probably intended to make the fruit fall. Clasping the rock has greater semiotic impact, since in most instances it is related to the immediate appearance of the divinity. This particular Minoan dance was also danced in mainland Greece with many variations on the original.

A dance for women, where the dancers are arranged in a triangle, seems to have been a particular favourite of the Minoans and Mycenaeans. Apart from the form, other characteristic features of the dance are the gesture of arms resting on the hips, the costume and the neckerchief.

Apart from these dances which are quite well defined, isolated representations or particular iconographic types are examined where the performance of the dance is unverified.

Next typical processional formations are mentioned and the development of the processional formation is examined over time. Important differences can be discerned by analysing the magnificent palatial processions with offerings of vases and robes to the divinity. In the Neopalatial period, the two sexes move in separate processions, maintaining a normal distance between them. However, in the Postpalatial period, men and women take part in the same procession, with differentiated sub-groups of different crowd density. Similar ceremonial processions also took place in the open-air to the accompaniment of music and singing, within the context of rites for the fertility of the earth.

Most of the dances mentioned had a close connection to epiphany, as well as being organized by a central authority and defined by convention. Spontaneous folk dances of a recreational character were not identified in this particular study, perhaps because they were not usually depicted in ancient civilizations. Although it is very difficult for evidence of Minoan dance to have survived into historic times, the magic exerted by the Minoan dance movements is preserved as a recollection in ancient authors who frequently refer to the dancing skills of the ancient Cretans.

Greece to speak to British Museum next month about loan of artifacts

Source: ekathimerini

Greek officials and representatives of the British Museum may discuss possibly loaning the Parthenon Marbles to Greece when they meet on May 4, Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis said yesterday. Voulgarakis was reacting to comments by Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum, who said that “in principle” the antiquities could spend three or six months in another country. However, MacGregor told Bloomberg News that the Greek government would first have to admit the Parthenon Marbles belong to the British Museum. “The Greek government has never asked for a loan of the material from the British Museum. The issue has always been about the permanent removal of all the Parthenon material in the BM collection to Athens,” said MacGregor. Voulgarakis said he read the comments “with interest..”

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Greeks could be allowed to borrow the Elgin Marbles

Source: Times Online

Dalya Alberge, Arts Correspondent

The British Museum has intimated that the Elgin Marbles could be lent to Athens.

Neil MacGregor, its director, said that, like any object in its collection, a loan would be possible if the Greek Government acknowledged the museum’s ownership of the sculptures.

The Greek authorities hailed his comments as unprecedented. One source told The Times: “This is the first time they’ve ever said they’d let them out of the museum. We’ve said we’re not disputing the ownership.”

The Marbles, now known as the Parthenon Marbles, have been the subject of a bitter dispute since the 19th century, when Lord Elgin, as the British Ambassador, removed them from the Acropolis in Athens.

In an interview with Bloomberg News, Mr MacGregor appeared to open the door to a compromise. Asked whether the trustees would consider a request from Athens to borrow the Marbles, he said: “There is no reason why any object in the museum, if it is fit to travel, shouldn’t spend three months, six months, somewhere else. So, in principle, absolutely yes.

“The difficulty at the moment is that the Greek Government has formally, and recently, refused to acknowledge that the trustees are the owners of the objects.” He said the Greek Government had never officially asked to borrow the treasures. “The issue has always been about the permanent removal of all the Parthenon material in the BM collection to Athens,” he said.

Victoria Solomonidis, the cultural counsellor at the Greek Embassy in London, said: “The words of Neil MacGregor are most welcome news. The Greek side is interested in the reunification of the Parthenon and the issue of ownership does not come into it.”

Eleni Corka, an official in the Greek Culture Ministry, told the BBC: “I believe that if we discuss the issue we will find ground which will be suitable and solutions which will be profitable for both sides.”

Britain has argued that when Lord Elgin bought and removed the Marbles between 1803 and 1812 he was acting legally and that, had he not done so, they would have suffered at least a further century of deterioration. Fearing their destruction in the conflict between the Greeks and the Turks, the 7th Earl secured permission from the Turks to remove the antiquities.

Campaigners have challenged whether the removal of the marbles has been of any benefit. Anthony Snodgrass, Laurence Professor Emeritus of Classical Archaeology at the University of Cambridge, has argued the British Museum’s Marbles now pale against those that Lord Elgin did not remove.

He believes original details that are absent from the British Museum’s creamy-white sculptures — which had a millimetre of the surface skin removed during the cleaning scandal of the 1930s — can be seen in the warm brown Greek figures that remain in Athens.

Looking at a depiction of two horsemen which Elgin did not remove, he noted that chisel marks and traces of colour in the crevices and folds of drapery, along with anatomical details such as veins on the horses’ bellies, are all missing from the London sculptures.

Eleni Cubitt, of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, said: “It’s the first time Neil MacGregor has made a proposition of this kind.”

A multimillion-pound Acropolis Museum, with a spectacular gallery to house the Marbles, is due to be completed this summer.

A spokeswoman for the British Museum said that objects could not be lent to a country where their ownership is not recognised as vested in the museum.

The treasure

— The temple of Athena Parthenos, known as the Parthenon, was built on the Athens Acropolis, probably between 447 and 438BC. It is thought the sculptures were not finished until about 432BC

— The pediments, triangular gables at each end of the building, were decorated with sculptural groups showing the birth of Athena and the contest between Athena and Poseidon for the land of Attica

— Metopes or relief panels showing scenes from the battle between the Lapiths and centaurs also originally decorated the exterior of the building

— In 1816, MPs found that the collection was acquired legitimately by Lord Elgin as a private individual. The collection was acquired by the British Museum

— The suggestion that it be returned to Athens was raised in the Commons in 1816. Greeks began calling for its return in 1833

Source: British Museum

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Priceless artifacts returned to Ancient Agora

Source: Athens News Agency

A poignant ceremony was held at the Ancient Athens Agora's Stoa of Attalus on Wednesday to mark the return of six priceless black-glazed ceremonial pottery pieces from the collection of eminent British scholar and philhellene Martin Robertson.

The miniature artifacts were bequeathed to the Athens Agora's museum, as stipulated in Robertson's will, following his death in December 2004. The author of the authoritative "A History of Greek Art" (Cambridge University Press 1975), considered his magnum opus, inherited the items from American archaeologist Lucy Talcott, the recording secretary of Agora excavations in the 1930s and ‘40s.

The artifacts were officially presented by one of Robertson's sons, Stephen, at the ceremony, who stressed that he was bringing a gift by his father to "his beloved Greece". Stephen Robertson also drew a comparison to the ongoing campaign for return of the Parthenon Marbles to Athens, saying Wednesday's ceremony can demonstrate to the British Museum's administration that a similar return of antiquities is not impossible.

On his part, the curator of the Acropolis archaeological site, Alexandros Mantis, expressed his thanks to the Robertson family, before noting that the artifacts return marks the eighth repatriation over the past year of artifacts taken from Acropolis-related sites.

Finally, Culture Minister George Voulgarakis expressed his satisfaction with the fact the ceremony coincided with UNESCO's World Heritage Day.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Ancient city Allianoi to be monitored under water

Source: Turkish Daily News

Near Bergama, the ancient thermal spa Allianoi, which was in danger of being submerged and lost forever to the waters of Yortanlı Dam, the construction of which has been completed, will still be a touristic spot after being flooded by the dam's waters because of a State Water Affairs (DSİ) conservation project.

The project, ratified by the İzmir Committee for the Conservation of Cultural and Natural Heritage, awaits for final approval from the Culture and Tourism Ministry's Scientific Committee. The ancient spa will be covered by a one-meter wall to keep the movable historic ruins and findings above the alluvium soil after the spa was submerged by the Yortanlı Dam and these pieces will be displayed in a museum that will be built close to the dam.

Ayhan Sarıyıldız of the DSİ said the ancient spa will continue to be viewable for tourists thanks to underwater cameras that will be attached to different spa sections and underwater archaeologists will continue to excavate the area.

Noting that they developed the best possible plan in order to save Allianoi and that there was no other alternative available, he said the project will be in line with the Culture and Tourism Ministry's Scientific Committee's decision.

Meanwhile, Allianoi excavation head Ahmet Yaraş opposed the DSİ's project. Yaraş said the project would not save the ancient city, which would be at last submerged in the waters of Yortanlı Dam, adding, “The DSİ offered a project which anticipates a one-meter wall around the ancient city. However, it will not prevent the ancient city from being flooded by the dam's waters. According to them, the solution is to cover the face of historic ruins. Their goal never changed. However, it is not a solution to permit submerging the ancient city under water; it is a deception. Unfortunately, they have mislead politicians and the public by claiming that they would save the ancient city. Their project doesn't intend to protect the ancient city.”

Project is misleading:

He also said they would take the issue to the European Court of Human Rights if the project were ratified by the Culture and Tourism Ministry.

Historically, Allianoi is well known as the land of the god of health Asklepios. The ancient city was established during the Hellenistic Age and reached its peak during the reign of Roman emperor Hadrian. It was considered as one of the most important health centers for nearly 15 centuries, starting from the sixth century B.C. through to the 11th century. Allianoi was famed for its thermal spring center and was known as the most important healing complexes during Hadrian's rule (117-138). Over the last five years, excavations revealed two impressive gates, marble stone-paved streets, shops, houses adorned with mosaics, large town squares, public fountains and rest areas to be used after having a bath. Surprisingly, the latest findings, such as mosaics, marble stones and some wood pieces designed for houses, were the most preserved pieces ever seen on an archaeological site because they had been covered with alluvium soil.

The ancient city is in danger of being submerged and lost forever to the waters of Yortanlı Dam, the construction of which started in 1994. The excavations, kicked off in 1998, have only uncovered the 20 percent of the ancient city.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Egypt, German row over Nefertiti deepens

Source: IOL

Cairo - Egypt on Sunday threatened to ban future displays of its ancient artifacts in Germany if Berlin refuses to return a 3 400-year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti for a temporary exhibition.

"(Egypt) will never again organise antiquities exhibitions in Germany if it refuses a request, to be issued next week, to allow the bust of Nefertiti to be displayed in Egypt for three months," antiquities supremo Zahi Hawass told parliament, according to the official MENA news agency.

His comments came after German Culture Minister Bernd Neumann refused to allow the bust of Nefertiti - renowned as one of history's great beauties - to be exhibited in Egypt because it was too delicate to be transported.

"Experts have reservations about taking Nefertiti on a long trip, which we have to take seriously," Neumann said in reaction to a campaign launched in Germany under the title "Nefertiti travels" to loan the bust to Egypt for a limited period.

Cairo and Berlin have frequently crossed swords over the limestone bust, which was unearthed by German archaeologists in an artist's studio on the banks of the Nile and taken to Germany under a 1913 agreement.

It was described by Adolf Hitler as "a true treasure".

A row broke out in 2003 when the Berlin museum allowed artists to temporarily attach the bust to a bronze statue of a naked woman.

Nefertiti was the wife of Pharaoh Akhenaton, remembered for having switched his kingdom to monotheism with the worship of one sun god, Aton.

Hawass has made it his mission to retrieve Egypt's widely scattered antiquities that can be found in museums around the world.

But the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which is responsible for Berlin's art treasures, also ruled out a return to Egypt, saying: "After 3 000 the lady is travel weary." - Sapa-AFP

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Ancient Thessaloniki emerges, thanks to digging for metro

Tunnels will go deeper to spare antiquities

One outstanding find was the headless marble figure of a man found during work at Aghios Athanasios in Thessaloniki.

By Iota Myrtsioti - Kathimerini

Preliminary work on the metro is slowly bringing to light the story of Thessaloniki. The first architectural remains and portable finds discovered in the city’s historic center are just a sample of what the metro tunneling machine will turn up once it starts digging deeper.

Though the exploratory digs at 350 points along the 9.6-kilometer metro line that were begun last August have so far uncovered only a handful of portable finds, a museum has already been found to house them. It is the Alkazar (formerly Hamza Bey mosque). Refurbishment is under way, which will allow the monument to receive visitors by the end of the year, Culture Ministry General Secretary Christos Zahopoulos announced on Thursday, presenting the finds.

Part of the eastern cemetery of Thessaloniki with 35 graves was one of the expected finds. It was discovered by archeologists from the 16th Ephorate of Classical Antiquities in the Sintrivaniou district.

Of various types, set in close rows, the graves date from the Early Hellenistic to the Late Roman period (third century BC to third century AD). Eleven of them contained grave goods, including coins, figurines, bone clasps, clay and glass vases, gold and bronze jewelry, and a funerary stele bearing the name of the occupant, Epitherses Filonos Methemnaios.

Interment was the most common form of burial, noted ephorate chief Lilian Aheilara. The body was usually supine. Four burial sites showed signs of incineration.

In contrast, the Roman-era architectural remnants discovered at points along the projected metro line were a complete surprise.

Preliminary excavations unearthed various items including potsherds, plinths, slate paving, plaster, bones and stones at 42 other sites.

At Dimokratias Square, Venizelou and Aghias Sofias metro station sites, the 9th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities unearthed parts of walls, pipes and floors. One outstanding find was a headless marble figurine discovered in front of Aghios Athanasios.

The Attiko Metro construction company has already altered its plans in response to the successive finds, managing director Giorgos Yiannis announced. The tunnels will now go down to a depth of 31 meters, instead of 7-9 meters as stipulated in the original plan.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Digger blunder at site of Roman fort

I could never understand why on earth British archaeologists use bulldozers in their digs... :-(

Source: EDP24


It was built to repel invaders from Roman Britain and for centuries withstood the vagaries of time.

But some of the buried artefacts at Caister, near Yarmouth, have met their match after archaeologists mistakenly used a mechanical digger to uncover the fort's secrets. Norfolk Archaeology Unit (NAU) was commissioned to carry out a dig last year ahead of plans to build houses on a garden bordering the north-east corner of the fort at Uplands Avenue.

A nationally important site, the fort was one of 12 built by the Romans stetching to the south coast, with the others in Norfolk being at Burgh Castle and Brancaster.

The area in question was covered by a thin layer of tarmac, yet beneath that it was straight down into undisturbed Roman deposits allowing a fresh picture to be built up of an area stretching from the fort's outer defences.

But when David Gurney, principal archaeologist at Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service, went out to check on the progress of the work, he was horrified to see a 15m long by 1m trench dug out by a digger instead of being excavated by hand.

“On a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of damage to Norfolk's archaeology, this is a 10,” he said. “This was the first chance to dig a trench across the defences at Caister fort since the 1960s. It was a huge opportunity.

“The archaeology in that area has been destroyed,” he added. “We lost the opportunity to go through the different layers very carefully and recover the pottery and objects that would have helped us review the dating of the fort defences.

“There's a lot of archaeological work taking place all the time so there's bound to be the odd lapse. It's very unfortunate that it took place on such an important site.

“They made quite a serious mistake. There have been long discussions with the contractor and they are fully aware of the mistake they have made. Measures have been put in place to make sure it doesn't happen again.”

The incident happened last June, but the mistake has only now been unearthed after lying deep inside a council report due for discussion on Monday.

Jayne Bown, archaeology unit manager at NPS property consultants, which took over the running of the unit in 2005, said an approved plan had been produced and followed but there was a misunderstanding about how the dig was to be carried out.

“Once work was under way it became clear that there was a divergence of professional opinion on the scope and detail of the fieldwork required,” she said. “A wide-ranging discussion ensued and procedures have since been thoroughly reviewed.”

“NAU Archaeology is a successful organisation with clients across the country and we pride ourselves on working to high professional standards. The misunder-standing in this case was a very rare occurrence and we have acted promptly to reduce the likelihood of it ever recurring in the future.”

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Archaeology bridges gap between modern people, past cultures

Source: The Columbus Dispatch


What is the value of archaeology? Why should anyone care about the broken bits and pieces of past lives scattered across the landscape?

Paul Minnis, an archaeologist at the University of Oklahoma, asked several colleagues this question. Their answers were published in the Society for American Archaeology's November newsletter.

One of the best answers was provided by Barbara Little, who edited a recent book on the public benefits of archaeology. She wrote: "Our history is an anchor, a vantage point and a library. Archaeology is the tool for expanding that history."

William Faulkner once said, "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past." This speaks to the enduring power of the past for informing and enriching our lives.

Yet, as Little also observed, the power of the past can be abused as a weapon.

In Afghanistan, for example, the Taliban destroyed ancient Buddhist statues and other relics in acts of archaeological terrorism. In a story broadcast last month on National Public Radio, Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reported that Afghanistan's National Museum in Kabul was hit by rockets and pillaged by looters. Much of what was left was smashed by the Taliban.

Now, however, museum staff members are working hard to rebuild this national treasure. They cut an inscription into a marble post in front of the building to express their faith in the sustaining power of their past: "A nation stays alive when its culture stays alive."

Rory Stewart, who directs a nonprofit group working with the museum, told Sarhaddi Nelson that the key to success was getting ordinary Afghans to reconnect with their heritage.

In Ohio, during the 18 th and early 19 th centuries, European-American settlers destroyed many of the monuments erected by ancient American Indian cultures. The farmers and town-builders of that era simply didn?t acknowledge the earthen mounds and enclosures as part of a heritage they had any obligation to preserve or understand.

Since then, several decades of archaeological investigation have added the achievements of indigenous cultures to our expanded view of Ohio's history. Archaeological parks preserve many important sites, and museums display the artifacts made and used by hundreds of generations of Ohioans.

These special places allow us to reconnect with our heritage, which did not begin in 1803, 1776 or even 1492. It began with the original discovery of Ohio by the first Americans more than 14,000 years ago.

Bradley T. Lepper is curator of archaeology at the Ohio Historical Society.

Heracleion and Canopus back to light

Source: Deutsche Welle

"It's a Bit Like Modern Surgery"

DW-WORLD.DE spoke to French marine archeologist Franck Goddio, who brought lost parts of the legendary port of Alexandria and the ancient cities of Heracleion and Canopus back to light.

"Egypt's Sunken Treasures," an exhibition of artifacts unearthed during Goddio's excavations, went on show in Bonn on Thursday.

DW-WORLD.DE: After thousands of excursions to sunken cities and shipwrecks around the world, your living room must look like an adventurous place.

Franck Goddio: Well, it's not an adventure. I would say it's a job, and we are doing this job very professionally. We plan each mission carefully and train our staff for that, and before starting, there is a lot of paperwork that has to be done.

Before you started to search for sunken treasures, you studied mathematics and worked as a financial consultant. How does that fit with archaeology?

Goddio devoted himself to marine archeology in the 1980sBildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Goddio devoted himself to marine archeology in the 1980s

As a matter of fact, it does help. After 10 years in finance, I decided to take a one-year break. I looked at what at the time has been done in underwater archaeology, and I realized that there was a need for a privately funded independent institute that could work for governments and other institutions.

You opened such an institute for underwater archaeology in Paris in 1985. Were you always sure that it would become a success story?

Maybe I was a little naive at the beginning. When I started to search for the sunken parts of Alexandria in 1984 the geophysical instruments that you need for missions like that didn't exist.

But you did find ancient Alexandria in the end.

But for Alexandria, it took years and years because we had to perform a four-year geophysical survey before we even had a detailed map that showed that there was something under the sediment. It's a bit like modern surgery. You use the scanner, and then afterwards, when you know where to search, you do the operation at the right place.

Are you still thrilled by your work?

It's very hard work because for months and months you only sail along straight lines in the harbor, towing instruments and registering data in order to create an electronic map. When you start to see the map, you get this feeling that there is something down there. And only then does it become thrilling.

It seems that your work has little in common with an Indiana Jones adventure.

Not at all, on the contrary I would say. My job is to prevent adventure.

When you take artifacts from the ancient port of Alexandria, you put them in different colored baskets. Does the color mean something?

The color is in fact no criteria, but you need these baskets in order to desalinate the artifacts. When you raise it from the sea, where the object has been for some 2,000 years, you have to remove the salt. For a small artifact, this can take a few days. For a very big artefact, like the statue of Hapi (editor's note: a more than five-meter or 16-feet high statue), we needed 18 months to remove the salt.

What happens if you don't do that?

The stone will disintegrate. Chemical reactions will make the stone weaker, until it finally disintegrates.

The exhibition in Bonn is showing 500 artifacts, most of them from Alexandria. What kind of feeling should the exhibition evoke in visitors?

We found all the artifacts right next to each other. They were on the same place for thousands of years and supplemented each other, they were literally living together. In the exhibition you can see that they speak to each other.

Who owns the artifacts?

They belong to Egypt of course. All artifacts that you see in the exhibit in Bonn will one day end up in a museum which will be built for them -- in Alexandria.

"Egypt's Sunken Treasures" runs until Jan. 27, 2008 at the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn.
Richard Fuchs interviewed Franck Goddio (ncy)

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