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Jun 2009
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Crusader era murals found in Syria, compliments of Archaeology Magazine,
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Experts find rare Crusader-era murals in Syria
By ALBERT AJI and BASSEM MROUE (AP) – 4 hours ago
DAMASCUS, Syria — Archaeologists have discovered two Crusader-era murals depicting heaven and hell in a medieval church on Syria's coast — a rare find that could reveal new information about the Christian knights who battled Muslims for control of the Holy Land hundreds of years ago.
Experts are now renovating the 12th century paintings, which were discovered last year by a joint Syrian-Hungarian team excavating an old Crusader fortress on a hilltop overlooking the Mediterranean in the eastern city of Tartous.
The murals, which measure about 8 feet (2.5 meters) high and 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) wide, were hanging on either side of the altar of a 12th century chapel inside the al-Marqab Citadel and had accumulated thick layers of dust and dirt, archaeologists said.
The panel depicting hell shows people being tortured inside a wheel covered with knives and others being hanged and burnt, said Marwan Hassan, head of the Department of Antiquities in Tartous. The one portraying heaven includes saints surrounded by light colors.
Hassan said the Crusader murals were important because they were the first ones found in the Middle East depicting heaven and hell.
Authorities have restricted access to the paintings while archaeologists finish their excavation
"Crusaders did not stay in one place for a long time, and so it very rare to find such paintings left behind by them," Michel Makdisi, head of excavations at Syria's Directorate General of Antiquities, told The Associated Press.
Bassam Jamous, the country's director-general of ruins and museums, told the state-run Al-Thawra newspaper last week that the paintings could provide information about the traditions and beliefs of the Crusaders.
Pope Urban II ordered the First Crusade in 1095 to establish Christian control of the Holy Land. European Crusaders soon took Jerusalem, but they lost it in 1187 to the famed Muslim leader Saladin.
The al-Marqab Citadel in Tartous, located some 150 miles (240 kilometers) northeast of the Syrian capital of Damascus, is believed to be the place where Richard the Lionheart, the former king of England, landed at the beginning of the Third Crusade, which was prompted by Saladin's capture of Jerusalem.
Syria, once a regional trade center, is home to several imposing Crusader fortresses, including the famed Krak des Chevaliers — Castle of the Knights — that Lawrence of Arabia called the best in the world.
Associated Press Writers Bassem Mroue and Zeina Karam reported from Beirut.
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Jun 2009
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World's Oldest Submerged Town Dates Back 5,000 Years

ScienceDaily (Oct. 16, 2009) — Archaeologists surveying the world’s oldest submerged town have found ceramics dating back to the Final Neolithic. Their discovery suggests that Pavlopetri, off the southern Laconia coast of Greece, was occupied some 5,000 years ago — at least 1,200 years earlier than originally thought.
These remarkable findings have been made public by the Greek government after the start of a five year collaborative project involving the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and The University of Nottingham.
As a Mycenaean town the site offers potential new insights into the workings of Mycenaean society. Pavlopetri has added importance as it was a maritime settlement from which the inhabitants coordinated local and long distance trade.
The Pavlopetri Underwater Archaeology Project aims to establish exactly when the site was occupied, what it was used for and through a systematic study of the geomorphology of the area, how the town became submerged.
This summer the team carried out a detailed digital underwater survey and study of the structural remains, which until this year were thought to belong to the Mycenaean period — around 1600 to 1000 BC. The survey surpassed all their expectations. Their investigations revealed another 150 square metres of new buildings as well as ceramics that suggest the site was occupied throughout the Bronze Age — from at least 2800 BC to 1100 BC.
The work is being carried out by a multidisciplinary team led by Mr Elias Spondylis, Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture in Greece and Dr Jon Henderson, an underwater archaeologist from the Department of Archaeology at The University of Nottingham.
Dr Jon Henderson said: “This site is unique in that we have almost the complete town plan, the main streets and domestic buildings, courtyards, rock-cut tombs and what appear to be religious buildings, clearly visible on the seabed. Equally as a harbour settlement, the study of the archaeological material we have recovered will be extremely important in terms of revealing how maritime trade was conducted and managed in the Bronze Age.”
Possibly one of the most important discoveries has been the identification of what could be a megaron — a large rectangular great hall — from the Early Bronze Age period. They have also found over 150 metres of new buildings including what could be the first example of a pillar crypt ever discovered on the Greek mainland. Two new stone built cist graves were also discovered alongside what appears to be a Middle Bronze Age pithos burial.
Mr Spondylis said: “It is a rare find and it is significant because as a submerged site it was never re-occupied and therefore represents a frozen moment of the past.”
The Archaeological Co-ordinator Dr Chrysanthi Gallou a postdoctoral research fellow at The University of Nottingham is an expert in Aegean Prehistory and the archaeology of Laconia.
Dr Gallou said: “The new ceramic finds form a complete and exceptional corpus of pottery covering all sub-phases from the Final Neolithic period (mid 4th millennium BC) to the end of the Late Bronze Age (1100 BC). In addition, the interest from the local community in Laconia has been fantastic. The investigation at Pavlopetri offers a great opportunity for them to be actively involved in the preservation and management of the site, and subsequently for the cultural and touristic development of the wider region.”
The team was joined by Dr Nicholas Flemming, a marine geo-archaeologist from the Institute of Oceanography at the University of Southampton, who discovered the site in 1967 and returned the following year with a team from Cambridge University to carry out the first ever survey of the submerged town. Using just snorkels and tape measures they produced a detail plan of the prehistoric town which consisted of at least 15 separate buildings, courtyards, streets, two chamber tombs and at least 37 cist graves. Despite the potential international importance of Pavlopetri no further work was carried out at the site until this year.
This year, through a British School of Archaeology in Athens permit, The Pavlopetri Underwater Archaeology Project began its five year study of the site with the aim of defining the history and development of Pavlopetri.
Four more fieldwork seasons are planned before their research is published in full in 2014.
To see the expedition for yourself, watch the video podcast on YouTube — [ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kepaQu4uerg"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kepaQu4uerg[/ame]
And on the University's Podcast website — http://communications.nottingham.ac.uk/podcasts.html.




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Jun 2009
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Ancient Rome's Real Population Revealed

Andrea Thompson
Senior Writer
LiveScience.com andrea Thompson
senior Writer
livescience.com – Mon Oct 5, 5:16 pm ET

The first century B.C. was one of the most culturally rich in the history of the Roman Empire - the age of Cicero, Caesar and Virgil. But as much as historians know about the great figures of this period of Ancient Rome, they know very little about some basic facts, such as the population size of the late Roman Empire.

Now, a group of historians has used caches of buried coins to provide an answer to this question.

During the Republican period of Rome (about the fifth to the first centuries B.C), adult male citizens of Rome could be taxed and conscribed into the army and were also given the right to vote. To keep track of this section of the population (and their taxable assets), the Roman state conducted periodic censuses.

Unexplained increase

From the middle of the third to the end of the second centuries B.C., the adult male population was estimated to have risen from about 200,000 to 400,000 individuals. Those numbers, however, don't jibe with censuses organized by the first emperor Augustus in the first centuries B.C. and A.D., which showed a population that had increased to about 4 million to 5 million males.

While the granting of citizenship to allies on the Italian peninsula accounts for some of the increase, there is still an estimated unexplained doubling or tripling in the Roman population before the first Augustan census in 28 B.C. Just what accounts for that increase is a matter of intense debate.

One camp explains the discrepancy by suggesting that the Empire began counting women and children in the census. While this would account for the relative increase, it would actually imply an overall decline in the population of Rome and there are no suggestions that the entire populace was counted in historical records.

On the other side of the debate are those who suggest that the population simply boomed. This would mean that the Roman Empire - and other premodern societies - achieved much higher economic output than previously supposed. It would mean that Roman history as it is now understood would have to be rewritten.

Coin clues

To help put an end to the debate, University of Connecticut theoretical biologist Peter Turchin and Stanford University ancient historian Walter Scheidel focused on the region's prevalence of coin hoards, those bundles of buried treasure that people hid to protect their savings during times of great violence and political strife. If the people who hid these bundles were killed or driven off, they wouldn't have been able to retrieve them, leaving them for archaeologists to find.

According to the researchers, mapping out the times when the coins were buried is a good indirect method for measuring the intensity of internal warfare and unrest, and therefore a key indicator of population demographics.

"Hoards are an excellent indicator of internal turmoil," Turchin said. "This is a general phenomenon, not just in Rome."

The model the two developed using the coin distribution and less controversial census data from earlier periods suggests that the population of Rome did in fact decline after 100 B.C., suggesting the census did likely begin to include women and children and that Ancient Rome wasn't substantially larger than historians had thought.

By these estimates the entire population of the Roman Empire - and not just its male population - was somewhere around 4 million to 5 million people by the end of the first century B.C.

"This may seem like an arcane dispute, but it isn't really because the difference is so large - 200 percent," Scheidel said. "This model is much more consistent with the low count. I'm not sure that by itself it has absolutely proven it, but it certainly provides additional evidence for the low-count hypothesis."

The findings are detailed in the Oct. 5 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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Jun 2009
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Striking Discovery in Germany

Archaeologists Excavate 4,000-Year-Old Skeletons

Archaeologists in Germany have made a number of sensational finds along a railway line under construction in eastern Germany -- Bronze Age treasures, burial sites and evidence of settlements dating back more than 7,000 years.
Archaeologists in the state of Saxony-Anhalt have uncovered 4,000-year-old skeletons and Bronze Age treasures in excavations along a railway line being built in eastern Germany.

Copper and amber jewellery and hundreds of dogs' teeth with holes bored in them as well as small shell discs worn as decoration for clothing have been found in the remains of settlements and graves from various epochs along the planned high-speed railway line from the cities of Erfurt to Leipzig, the Saxony Anhalt Office for Monument Protection and Archaeology said in a statement.

6 Photos
Photo Gallery: Archaeologists Discover 4,000-Year-Old Skeletons

"The broad range of traces from ancient cultures and the number and quality of the individual finds show how important this region has been for thousands of years not just as a settlement area, but as a transport route," the statement said. Over the last year, archaeologists have retrieved more than 55,000 items on an area of around 100 hectares (247 acres).

The region boasts fertile land and has been settled for at least 7,500 years. Relics of the more recent past have also been found, including a Slavic graveyard from the ninth or 10th century AD. "Even though the bodies were laid with the head pointed west according to the Christian tradition, receptacles and food remains placed with the bodies indicate that heathen traditions were also observed in furnishing the dead," the statement said.
The construction of the Inter City Express (ICE) rail link has provided a unique opportunity to conduct a 22-kilometer dig along one of the key settlement areas of central Germany. The excavations will continue until mid-2010.
The find includes a farm from the early Bronze Age Unetice culture of 2200 to 1600 BC. Near the 20-meter-long main building a small burial site with eight graves was found. DNA testing will be applied to establish whether and how the people were related.
cro -- with wire reports


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Jun 2009
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Archaeologists unveil ancient auditorium in Rome
By MARTA FALCONI (AP) – 6 hours ago
ROME — Archaeologists on Wednesday unveiled the remains of an ancient auditorium where scholars, politicians and poets held debates and lectures, a site discovered during excavations of a bustling downtown piazza in preparation for a new subway line.
The partially dug complex, dating back to the 2nd century A.D., is believed to have been funded by Emperor Hadrian as a school to promote liberal arts and culture.
Known as the "Athenaeum" and named after the city of Athens, which was considered the center of culture at the time, the auditorium could accommodate up to 200 people, experts said.
"Hadrian, who was a cultured emperor, wanted to re-establish the tradition of public recitation, conferences and poetry contests, as it used to happen in classic Greece," Roberto Egidi, an archaeologist overseeing the digs, said during a tour.
Egidi said the identification of the auditorium as Hadrian's is "a likely hypothesis" due to the building's specific structure, as well as references in ancient texts. The digs have turned up two terraced staircases used for seating, a corridor and marbled floors, Egidi said.
Egidi also said the building's upper floors are believed to have crumbled during an earthquake.
The auditorium was discovered during excavations at Piazza Venezia, a busy intersection in the heart of Rome, just a few meters (yards) from the Roman Forum.
Archaeologists have been probing the depths of the Eternal City for months to pave the way for some of the 30 stations of the city's planned third subway line. Many of the digs are near famous monuments or on key thoroughfares and several archaeological remains — including Roman taverns and 16th-century palace foundations — have already turned up at Piazza Venezia.
Francesco Giro, a top official with Italy's culture ministry, said the entrance to the subway would be close to the auditorium, but in an area where digs turned up only ancient sewers.
The archaeological investigations are needed only for the subway's stairwells and air ducts, because the 15 miles (25 kilometers) of subway stations and tunnels will be dug at a depth of 80 to 100 feet (25 to 30 meters) — below the level of any past human habitation.
However, most of the digs still have yet to reach levels that date back to Roman times, where plenty of surprises may be waiting.
Rome's 2.8 million inhabitants rely on just two subway lines, which only skirt the city center, leaving it clogged with traffic and tourists.
Plans for a third line that would serve the history-rich heart of Rome have been put off for decades amid funding shortages and fears that a wealth of archaeological discoveries would halt work.
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


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Jun 2009
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Commissioners back testing of Bath man believed to be pirate

Ask for remains to be returned if proven so

Staff Writer

Published: Thursday, October 22, 2009 2:20 AM EDT
An alleged pirate’s remains may be one step closer to returning to Beaufort County following action Monday night by the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners.

The commissioners voted unanimously to approve a resolution asking for genetic testing of the skeletal remains of a man believed to be Edward Salter, a Bath man who has been dead for more than 250 years. If the tests determine the remains are those of Salter, the resolution also seeks “the prompt and respectful return” of the remains from the N.C. Office of State Archeology to Beaufort County so they can be buried in the St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Bath.

Meanwhile, Beaufort County economic development advocates hope to meet with N.C. Department of Cultural Resources Secretary Linda Carlisle within the next 30 days to ask that the remains be turned over to East Carolina University’s Department of Anthropology for testing.

Tom Thompson, executive director of the Beaufort County Economic Development Commission, said transferring control of the remains from the state represents a moral issue as well as an economic development one for Beaufort County.

“The man asked for a decent burial,” said Thompson. “Whoever he is, the man deserves to be buried somewhere other than in a box in the Office of State Archeology.”

If the remains do turn out to be those of Salter and if he is buried in Bath, that would reinforce Beaufort County’s claim to Blackbeard and benefit local tourism, Thompson said.

“His would be the only grave of a known pirate anywhere in the world,” he said.

Citing colonial records and early deed conveyances, researcher and author Kevin P. Duffus believes that this same Edward Salter, a barrel maker who died in 1735, may have been a member of Blackbeard’s pirate crew who escaped the noose and returned to settle in Bath. Salter went on to become a warden of St. Thomas Parish and an assemblyman representing Beaufort County in 1731.

The bones ended up in Raleigh after what was then TexasGulf (now PCS Phosphate) asked for permission to install a bulkhead on the west bank of Bath Creek. Archeological examinations before the work was done yielded the remains. The state has argued that its only duty is to conserve the remains permanently.

In May, a hearing was held in Beaufort County Superior Court to consider a motion to reopen Salter’s estate and name Kevin P. Duffus, a Raleigh researcher and author, executor of the estate. Two of Salter’s descendants came from Missouri for the hearing to back Duffus’ motion but the petition was later denied.


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Jun 2009
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Culture And Media

Italy: Roman temple discovered in Tuscany

Parco della Maremma, 21 October (AKI) - A Roman temple dating from the fourth century AD was discovered inside the Maremma Park, located in the central Italian region of Tuscany. The rectangular-shaped temple was found by a group of archaeologists after three months of work about three kilometres from the beach of Marina di Alberese, in the province of Grosseto.

The rectangular-shaped structure measures 11.5 metres by 6.5 metres and was built using a Roman-building technique called 'opus testaceum'. A loose stone foundation covered by bricks which are then covered in slabs of marble.

According to archaeologists, the temple suggests there was once an important Roman settlement in the area, which served as a trading port that handled goods coming from Africa and from the entire Mediterranean basin.

The goods would then be transported north to the city of Siena and the Etruscan town of Roselle (Rosellae in Latin) or south towards the town of Heba (now called Magliano in Toscana) and the ancient town of Ager Cosanus, which is also located in Tuscany.

At the temple site, archaeologists found at least 50 Roman coins and a huge quantity of ceramic artefacts originating from all over the Mediterranean basin, but especially from Tunisia.

The team of archaeologists will be carrying out further excavations in the area, where they believe there is another temple, dedicated to the pagan goddess of hunting, Diana.

According to the group of archaeologists' Facebook page, the privately-funded project is directed by Elena Chirico, Matteo Colombini and Alessandro Sebastiani with the scientific co-direction of the Archaeological Superintendence of Tuscany.

"The archaeological project in the territory of Alberese, in the province of Grosseto, finds its aim in the comprehension and understanding of settlement patterns in the Roman and Late Antique period," said a statement on the group's Facebook page.

"The project will focus on the excavation of some key sites and on the preservation and valuing of the natural landscape of the Regional Park of the Uccellina."


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Jun 2009
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Archaeological Discoveries: Byzantine Clay Lamps & Glass Kohl Jars Uncovered in Syria By H. Sabbagh / Kh. Aridi Thursday, 22 October 2009 00:00

Syria, The excavations of the Syrian-Polish Joint Expedition during 2009 in the site of Horta, 15 kilometers north of the ancient city of Apamea in Hama, uncovered a number of clay lamps and glass kohl jars dating back to the Roman and Byzantine periods.

Representative of the Syrian side in the expedition Nadim al-Khouri pointed out that the Horta site has two levels, one Roman and one Byzantine, and that excavations for this season focused on uncovering a temple dedicated to the god Mithras, the principal figure of the Greco-Roman religion of Mithraism.

A big part of the temple was uncovered, particularly the altar and the main hall. The walls of the main hall bear frescos depicting Mithras and other gods associated with him.

The roof western side of the temple is almost completely collapsed, and the clay lamps and glass kohl jars were found during the process of clearing the rubble from that area, in addition to uncovering remains pottery that possibly date back to the Byzantine period since they bear the sign of the cross.

Excavations also uncovered the remaining parts of a clay container that was discovered in 2003.

The expedition will work in upcoming seasons to uncover the exterior parts of the temple, which has an area of approximately 200 square meters.

Earlier excavations in the Horta site uncovered the Alexandros church, one of the oldest churches in the region, dating back to 421 AD.

Meanwhile, the Syrian-Japanese Archeological Expedition uncovered a burial chamber dating back to the Bronze Age circa 2000 BC at Tel Ghanem al-Ali site, which is located on the Eastern bank of the Euphrates River east of al-Raqqah city.

The burial chamber contained several clay jars and plates, beads, and bronze drill.

The National Archeological expedition working at the Maslama bin Abdel-Malek Keep site, which is located 70 kilometers north of al-Raqqah, uncovered the praying niche of mosque, painted in white plaster from the inside and covered in carved bricks on the outside, with a floor made of bricks.

The same expedition uncovered buildings and bath-houses near al-Imara Castle, in addition to a well, bronze artifacts and clay pots. (AANA)

Global Arab Network


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Jun 2009
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Front page
Denmark Through the Looking Glass
Ancient cult of the Viking kings
Ancient cult of the Viking kings

Tuesday, 13 October 2009 12:53 CF Culture

Could a large mud building unearthed in Lejre have been a cult place or beer hall of the ancient Viking kings?
The hall, 48 metres long and seven metres across, overlooks the site of a Viking palace unearthed in 1986 in what is an historic area of Denmark.
‘We are sure we have found a royal building of some sort,’ said Tom Christensen, curator of Roskilde Museum at the time. ‘The odd thing about the site is that it is littered with bits and pieces of exquisite golden jewellery, glass and bronze broaches, high quality artifacts, such as drinking glasses and ceramics, which all seem to have been deliberately smashed in some ritual.’
‘There is also a huge pile of cooking stones from primitive ovens. This was obviously a place frequented by the upper classes of the Iron Age. Maybe it was some sort of beer hall or a sacred site where cult or religious activities were carried out. The building’s post holes are over a metre deep, so it must have been an impressive construction,’ said Christensen. A large part of the rolling countryside around the hamlet of Lejre, near the cathedral town of Roskilde, an area which abounds in ancient burial mounds and Viking stone tombs, has been designated as an archaeological site.
Here, archaeologists have been excavating since 1986 in the hope of finding the ancient seat of Denmark’s first Viking kings. The sagas say that Leje was the chief city of Denmark’s first Viking royal family – the Skjold, or in English ‘Scylding’ dynasty – dating back to around AD 400-500. Nordic myths tell us that King Skjold, which means ‘shield’ in Danish, was so named because he made his first mysterious appearance asleep in a boat, lying on his shield.
The Scylding dynasty lasted at least a century, through Skjold’s successors Halfdan, Roar, Helge and Rolf Krake. The oldest known reference to the dynasty’s heroic and bloody exploits is in the eighth century Anglo-Saxon epic poem ‘Beowulf’, often called the first major work of English literature.
Set in the period of the Germanic migrations in the fourth to seventh centuries, the poem places the Scylding King Hrothgar’s Hall, Hereot, at Lejre, while Saxo Grammaticus, a 13th century chronicler who compiled a history of both legendary and historical Danish kings, also identified Lejre as an ancient royal seat.
Many modern Beowulf scholars identify Hereot with Lejre and, with the discovery of the hall, Danish archaeologists believed they had finally found the site. ‘The date of the cult place fits perfectly with the era of the Scyldings,’ Christensen said.
In 1986 archaeologists discovered a major upturned boat-shaped Viking longhouse, but only the foundations of the huge hall and outhouses remained as the original construction had been of wood. The 50-metre-long, 10-metre-high longhouse was twice the size of any similar hall discovered in Denmark, leading archaeologists to believe they had stumbled on a royal palace from the time of the sagas.
The dimensions of the hall were calculated from 200 posthole marks on the ground from the huge oak beams that supported the walls and roof. There were signs on the site of earlier constructions, dams, windmills and other buildings including a bronze foundry, workshops and outlining fencing, underlining the importance of the Lejre settlement.
A museum now occupies a plot of land near the site. The English web address for the Lejre Museum is www.english.lejre-centre.dk